LONDON
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).

A Fifteen specialty cocktail called “Summer Fruit Cup” was a refreshing gin drink with the flavor of herbs and fresh summer fruits

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 downstairs kitchen, withe professional chefs wearing black hats or aprons

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)

Fifteen Trattoria on Urbanspoon

The upstairs open kitchen and an apprentice working the counter

Summer salad of Trevisano tardivo, wild rocket, and pears with a “Colston Basset” dressing

Diners enjoying their meals at Fifteen

Roasted lamb with borletti beans, Swiss chard, with a garlic and mint dressing

Amalfi lemon trio desssert

The general manager of Fifteen was super friendly, smiling for the camera as I was taking a picture of the restaurant on my way out

The restaurant is at the end of a short brick alley with interesting old brick buildings surrounding it

4 Responses to An Accidental Dinner in Jamie Oliver’s World

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    Did you ever watch the documentary Jamie did on starting his Fifteen restaurant? I think it might have aired on BBC. It was fascinating. You watch how he mortgaged his house — without telling his wife — in order to fund this project. And you see his frustration in finding students who are committed, which is not an easy thing. Then, you watch his elation when he finally puts together a crew that grows, surprises and exceeds his expectations. It’s life-affirming.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I did watch the show. I kind of remember it as a weekly series? I remember him trying to teach the kids and getting frustrated at times, but he never gave up. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years!

  2. foodhoe says:

    awesome way to spend an extra night of layover! What is Colston Bassett dressing? Your beverage sounded so interesting, what herbs were included?

    • Ben Ben says:

      I think Colston Bassett is a name of a cheese that’s used as a base for the dressing. That’s why it was pretty thick, which you would think they would be extra careful not to overdress. Anywho, I did love the summer cup drink. It was minty but with other herbs, but I think it was the spices that gave it that extra zing. Reminded me a bit of Christmas with a bit of cinnamon and cloves, I’m guessing. Making me want one now! :(

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