Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver’s charity work probably began 10 years ago when he opened his Fifteen restaurant, named after the 15 under-privileged, unemployed young adults hired as apprentices and given a chance to find a career in the food industry.
Through the years more than 220 apprentices have worked in the kitchen (and there are now more than one Fifteen restaurant), while raising money for Oliver’s foundation. And the guests have tasted the seasonal and fresh Italian cuisine that’s been Oliver’s passion.
I got the chance to visit Fifteen last month on a lark. On my way home to San Francisco from my Barcelona vacation, I missed my connection in London and ended up staying the night. It didn’t take me long to decide to extend my vacation because London is one of my favorite cities (having visited twice before).
But without any pre-planning, I didn’t know where to go for dinner. And the only person I could think of when I think of London was Jamie Oliver. So I looked up his Fifteen restaurant, got myself on the Underground, and found the restaurant at the end of a tiny brick alley in a non-descript neighborhood.
Side note: If I’ve kept up with the London restaurant scene, I would have known that Oliver just opened a new restaurant called Union Jacks. But I didn’t know about that, so will just have to plan another trip to London to try it.
Fifteen is a beautifully designed trattoria so it was casual enough that I could get in without a reservation. There are two levels, and I sat on the main floor between a bar in the back and next to an open kitchen where the apprentices (wearing white hats because there are professional chefs; they wear black hats) were working hard prepping dishes.
The menu is extensive and reminiscent of the dishes I’ve seen Oliver make on his TV shows and in his cookbooks over the years. There were salads with “rocket” (arugula), risottos, gnocchi, and dishes with anchovies as a base.
My dinner reflected the summer day I experienced wandering Covent Garden, starting off with a refreshing “Summer fruit cup” (7.2 pounds or $11) made with gin and incredibly fresh herbs, both minty and spicy (it was Fifteen’s version of a Pimms’ cup). It was followed by a summer salad of Trevisano tardivo and wild rocket with pears (8 pounds or $12).
The salad reflected some of the roughness of students working the kitchen because it was heavily dressed with the Colston Basset dressing. The dishes were always beautifully plated, but the execution (like the salad) were a bit off.
My main of roast Thirsk farm lamb with barlotti beans (25 pounds or $38.50) was nicely cooked but the taste of the lamb was more like a pork loin than the gaminess of lamb. My lemony dessert (an Amalfi lemon trio with crème fraiche and lemoncello, 7 pounds or $10.80) was basically a lemon cake with cream. It was good, but not exquisite.
The food was decent, kind of like going to a dinner at a culinary institute. But the vibe of the room and the extremely friendly service enhanced my overall dining experience, offering me a relaxing respite to the awful travel day I had earlier. So thanks to the people at Fifteen for making my one night in London a welcomed diversion.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Fifteen, 15 Westland Place, London. PH: (44)0.20.3375.1515. Open Mon.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Major credit cards, reservations accepted. Underground: Old Street. www.fifteen.net (1 pound donation added to tab, all profits go to the Jamie Oliver Foundation)
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