Fifteen is tucked away in a forlorn side street near Old Street. It has two dining areas, the casual Trattoria on the ground floor and a more formal dining room upstairs. The room upstairs has a tasting menu at £60, while in the trattoria starters are around £9, mains about £16, vegetables £3.45, desserts £6. The trattoria, where we ate, has a wooden floor, oddly uneven wooden tables that may in a past life have been school desks, an open kitchen and a bustling atmosphere. The clientele is quite mixed, with on this Saturday evening some trendy Hoxton couples, a hen night party, middle aged housewives and the odd family. One girl whispered breathlessly to another “I wonder if we’ll see Jamie?”, which is presumably partly why the place is so busy, yet she was doomed to disappointment. Jamie Oliver founded the Fifteen Charity in 2002 but does not own the restaurant and his connection now is only as a trustee of the charity (run by a lady called Penny Newman). Unlike the original TV program, Fifteen does not have a bunch of (hopefully) reformed delinquents behind the stoves. There is a team of professional chefs, but they do mentor some apprentices from the charity scheme. As is well known, the charity’s aim is to provide disadvantaged young people the opportunity of a career in the catering business.
There was a short wine list, and a more extensive one available on request. This was very well put together indeed, with a fine selection of growers. Examples are Mount Horrocks Riesling 2007 at £35 for a wine that costs about £12 in the shops, Au Bon Climat Chardonnay 2005 at £47 for a wine that will set you back around £14 if you buy it, and personal favourite Jermann Vintage Tunina at £75 for a wine that costs around £29 in the shops. At the high end there was the rare and lovely Kistler McCrea 2000 at £150 for a wine that well cost you at least £75 if you could find it, and the excellent Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2006 at £75 compared to a retail price of around £27.
The trattoria menu offers a range of conventional Mediterranean dishes. Bread was a rather dense foccacia or decent white bread that did not taste quite as fresh as one might hope, supplied by Flour Power City; they have switched to this from the Flour Station as a bread supplier recently (apparently due to some consistency issues). Based on the bread this evening they should switch back (12/20).
We began with a tagliatelle “fatte in casas” (i.e. homemade) with a Snowdonia lamb ragu, tomatoes, rosemary and Fontodi (a Chianti). The pasta had pleasant texture, the ragu with red wine sauce could have been more reduced but was certainly tasty, and the seasoning was fine, with a nice peppery bite (13/20). Gnocchi was much less successful, the texture soggy, cooked with Gorgonzola and supposedly with pears, spinach and walnuts, though the pears seemed entirely absent and the spinach was waterlogged (barely 11/20).
My label Anglais chicken was braised to the extent that meat slipped easily off the bone, cooked with red wine, chilli, capers, olives and almonds, on a bed of purple sprouting broccoli. It would perhaps have been better to have served the broccoli on the side, as it had become a bit soggy through resting in the sauce, but it still had some firmness of texture left. The sauce was pleasant (12/20). Haddock was pan-fried, a little bland but cooked tolerably, with chickpeas, Swiss card, rocket and surprisingly mild mint pesto, in a tomato-based sauce. Decent but lacking in flavour was the verdict (11/20). I enjoyed some boiled heritage potatoes on the side, which were firm in texture and nicely seasoned (14/20). Service was very good indeed, attentive and with very careful wine topping up, friendly and knowledgeable; our waiter would have been at ease in a much smarter restaurant than this.
Pannacotta with poached rhubarb had decent quality rhubarb (12/20) while baked vanilla and poppy seed cheesecake was dominated by the poppy seed rather than vanilla and had poor texture; it was served with pieces of blood orange on the side (11/20). On the positive side, the restaurant clearly goes to some effort to work with its suppliers, which are carefully listed on the web site, and the atmosphere is friendly. The problem is simple, and that is the price. If you have a starter, main, vegetable and dessert your food bill will be about £35, compared to a three course meal at (say) Michelin starred La Trompette at £37.50, which does not feel very charitable, despite the undoubted worthiness of the cause.