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Restaurant review: Fifteen London

Angie Sammons gets down with the bright young things at Jamie Oliver's starship social enterprise, and doesn't say loverly once - although it is

Written by . Published on March 15th 2010.

Restaurant review: Fifteen London

FOR all I know, Jamie Oliver might be a complete git.

He might set fire to his staff. He might hoard sacks of Turkey Dinosaurs in his freezer - reasoning what better way to silence the tired and mewling offspring come the end of a long day.

I left utterly happy. And I never leave a restaurant utterly happy, especially when 200 quid lighter

He might be the sort that laughs all the way to the ethical bank with loadsa gorgeous dosh from pricking our sausage consciences and assaulting battery farming. That's when he is not being filmed arguing at school gates with chippy loving monster women from Doncaster who are, in reality, a hired family of travelling acrobats.

A good egg slamming bad, he may not give a toss, in truth, when he's hobnobbing at Number 10 about policies to educate the masses in cooking food that won't kill them.

In short, he might be one cynical little pukka.

But I don't think so.

We found ourselves in Shoreditch recently. There had been an opportunity to review any restaurant in the capital. In other words, I was working there and at some point would need to eat – and fifteen is one of my favourite numbers.

Also everyone knows Fifteen, and – as discussed with the nice media lady when attempting to book a table on a packed Saturday night – people up north do like to read about things down there, so to speak.

This part of Hackney is a hive of dives. Where once, in my day, the hush of graveyards reigned after six o'clock, now myriad bars and clubs clamour. The party-minded, like my friend, venture out to them as late (or early) as 3am. Because they can. 

If it wasn't for Fifteen's compelling story – Oliver took a bunch of young people with not much going for them and transformed them into top class chefs in a TV documentary series – I might not hold out much hope, around here, of enjoying one of the most delightful processions of dishes in ages. Not in a Leslie Phillips way, obviously.

As it was, I left utterly happy. And I never leave a restaurant utterly happy, especially when 200 quid lighter.

Located in a warehouse cellar, Fifteen's Dining Room is modern, and well lit; the strains of Bank Robber, by the Clash, can be heard above the clatter of cutlery on utilitarian Formica. The menu, whose USP appears to rely on the best simple ingredients, uses straightforward techniques (quite frankly there is no other way to go with novices). So, oddly, rather than feeling as if I had been shot, which is the normal case after finishing four courses in any restaurant, I felt that everything I had ingested had done me good.

They have trained them properly in here. All the front of house staff are young and fresh, with bright eyes and good looks fitted as standard. They are Jamie's perfect mates from that hazy TV world where everyone laughs as they put the world to rights while piling into his tear 'n' share pizza to a soundtrack of sweet pop.

“We are a family at Fifteen,” explains waiter Levant who has been part of the tale since the beginning in 2002. “We speak in Jamie's voice.”

Unfortunately, this parlance does not extend to addressing us as “geezers”,which might have been fun, but instead refers to their easy knowledge which is shared eagerly, should you require it.

“We use beans flown in from Tuscany,” we are casually informed as dressed Cornish crab on a creamy bed of borlotti arrives. It is adorned with baby sorrel, a herb last grown in The Good Life, and anorexic slivers of red chilli. It is the first of many dishes that deliver pleasure with a little kick: arranged unions blessed by contrasting colours, textures and flavours, like the Campana mozzarella that turns into a tangy, creamy and savoury explosion when introduced to clementines, mint and parmesan.


In the Dining Room of Fifteen (upstairs is the bustling, noisy Trattoria) we are eating from the tasting menu at £60 per person. Wine pairings with each of the four courses takes it up to £100.

Baked foccacia with dressed olives (excellent) and salami (ditto) had got things off to a confident start.

A primi plate of pappardelle encasing a rich and meaty Buccleuch Estate ragu was the real pasta deal, hand made and hung out to dry. But my friend won this event with a hearty and rather marvellous potato gnocchi affair with octopus, braised in white wine with chilli, garlic, capers, tomatoes and olive pangrattato.

All is redolent of what you will find in Oliver's books, the ones which take up too much space our kitchen 200 miles away. Even down to menu descriptions like “wicked” fish pie which are agreeably sparing. Marco Pierre White told us the other week that all the best restaurant kitchens are populated by people from the north west. And herein lies the scouser: at the helm of Fifteen tonight is executive head chef Andrew Parkinson of Ellesmere Port. He's the trainees' mentor.

But in the opposite compass direction lies the inspiration. Partly as an accident of climate, Italy, to my mind, has the most to shout about on the food front. Aside from pointless polenta, the humbler the origins the better it gets. Historically, raw materials were nurtured and raised by people whose only riches were their passions for making the most from little. It's the recurring theme in everything Oliver does.


Thus, pork shoulder, the cut of peasants, is made fit for a king. This is partly to do with its provenance, it comes from pigs at Peter Gott's Sillfield farm near Keswick. It has been braised in rosemary, garlic and bay and is served with braised celeriac, cavolo nero and pan juices. The meat's flavours are bottomless and the texture is indescribable beyond the word luscious.

2010311Story-Dscf4518Char grilled sea bass is, of course, line caught – an expertly seared slab of skin hiding generous meat that provides my friend with pleasure to the gills. It is accompanied by those jetsetting Tuscan, zolfino beans made to feel at home in a little Italy world of chilli, anchovy and olives, this time given a bit of chicory bite.

I can't speak for the the fish pie, but the Tuscan chocolate tart really did deserve that wicked tag. Cheeses, from Umbria and Lombardy, were made more interesting by "mother-in-law's tongue" a handmade, savoury crisp bread.

Fifteen takes 30 unemployed young people a year on an apprenticeship scheme at a cost of £30,000 per student. This pays for a programme of college and in-house training, welfare support and sourcing visits to top producers, probabl ,the best bit. All the profits from the restaurant are ploughed back into a fund-raising foundation that aims to net £500k annually to “continue with work that will impact more young people in the community”.

There are no TV cameras any more, and the famous one only pops in now and again to the place where it began, but the story remains fascinating. That Fifteen has since expanded to Amsterdam, Melbourne and Cornwall, with kids who have gone on to cut the mustard at some of the world's very best restaurants, shows what a bit of passion and belief in humble beginnings can do.

Yep, he's all right, that Jamie O.

Follow Angie Sammons on twitter if you like @twangeee

Breakdown:10/10 food
5/5 service
5/5 ambience
Address:Fifteen London
15 Westland Place
London N1 7LP
Telephone: 0203 375 1515

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-18 very good to exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 Faultless

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

JayMarch 11th 2010.

Couldn't agree more with the sentiment of the article. I went to 15 last year and loved everything about the place. Can't wait for Jamie's Italian to open in Liverpool.

leonardMarch 11th 2010.

Coach trip please!

JeanieMarch 11th 2010.

Yes, you have to hand it to Jamie, I've visited Fifteen in both in Cornwall and Amsterdam, and have also been equally impressed. Give these kids a chance and they perform like stars, its a shame others don't follow his example instead of chasing Michelin Stars!

BrianMarch 11th 2010.

Great piece. I went there about a year agio and agree. It's not for the snooty Michelin starry or the wags but we had a lovely night. Come on Jamie, get a Fifteen up here and gizza job. I can cook that!

AnonymousMarch 11th 2010.

bang on. Love this place. Why is it so difficult to get simple quality in most restaurants? People chasing michelin stars up here make me laugh. Most of them haven't got a clue what makes a great restaurant. That's why unpretentious talents like Jamie Oliver shine. They know what it takes

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