Having eaten a delicious dinner at Trullo last week (which was opened a few weeks ago by one of the first fifteen chef-apprentices trained at Fifteen restaurant), Jon and I thought it was about time we tried eating at Fifteen. It is, after all, just a 20-minute walk away from our house, right off the stretch of City Road between Old Street and Angel stations.
It’s hard to be tough on Fifteen because it’s such a worthy venture, offering chef apprenticeships to what Jamie Oliver‘s website calls “disadvantaged youngsters.” Additionally, all profits go towards the foundation that owns and operates the restaurant.
Eight years in, though, Fifteen offers a menu that seems too routine to justify £8 starters and £20 main courses. Perhaps Fifteen and Jamie Oliver are victims of their own success – many of us now value knowing where our food comes from and insist on seasonal, quality produce. So restaurants have followed suit, and so what used to be quite special now seems ho-hum. Our dinner at Fifteen reminded me of the time I ate at Chez Panisse and left wondering what all the fuss was about. I suspect that part of the reason Chez Panisse seemed so ordinary by the time I got there is because chef-owner Alice Waters had already single-handedly changed the way we ate.
Menu descriptions seemed a bit too fussy, as if masking the ordinariness of the dishes. A white pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes and “pesto alla Genovese” (aka regular ol’ pesto made from basil and pinenuts) was tasty but also something you could picture at any half-decent gastropub in London these days.
On a hot day, the ravioli stuffed with smashed peas and served in a mint-butter sauce sounded perfect. But the peas were rather tough and not sweet, and the butter “sauce” appeared to have been made by merely melting a lot of butter on top of the ravioli. (I generally like to pretend that throwing in a few shallots and white wine makes it healthier).
Jon *loved* his Italian sausages, and I must admit that they were pretty darn good, with a sweet-spicy flavor from all the anise and fennel seeds in there. We troll London markets regularly looking for Italian sausage (with often disappointing results), so these were a treat, though £19 seemed a bit steep for what was essentially three grilled sausages.
Ribeye was fine. Rare. Juicy. You know, steak.
Risotto with ‘fruit of the sea’ was too al dente, I thought. I think the rice could have used just a little more liquid or oil, at least – it just tasted kind of dry and unpleasant. The tomato sauce was overly bright and didn’t provide enough moisture. Kind of a bummer, really.
Last but not least – the linquine carbonara was saved from utter blandness (because of under-seasoning) by the amazingly-fatty-and-smoky guanciale. I would have asked for salt, but as attentive as our server was in some ways (bringing plenty of pitchers of tap water to our table without our asking), she was hard to flag down.
Fifteen is still going strong, which is nice to see given its giving-back-to-the-community mission. On a Sunday evening, the place was packed, and the room is comfortable and still stylish after all these years. The food is better-than-average, so it’s a nice option to have if you’re in need of a mid-priced meal in Hoxton. Then again, on the basis of food and price alone, I’d rather walk a tad further to eat at Pizza East or stay in my neighborhood and walk to Trullo.
Total tab for two shared starters, four mains and a £30 bottle of wine (i.e., more than enough to feed and water four people): £34 a person.
Fifteen Restaurant, 13 Westland Place, N1 7LP, 0871 330 1515; closest tube station: Old Street