Now in its fifteenth year, Fifteen is Jamie Oliver's first and flagship restaurant, set up as part of his first Channel 4 TV series in 2002. Fifteen disadvantaged young adults were given the opportunity to train as chefs, and those who successfully completed the course ended up in a job at the new venue. It made good telly, and they made good food, so an annual apprenticeship scheme continues to operate (now with eighteen entrants each year, to spoil the numerical theme). The restaurant is located in a cobbled dogleg close to Old Street station, its Edwardian building a rare survivor amongst the modern residential towers now emblandening this corner of inner Hackney. The address, obviously, is 15 Westland Place because what else? And last night BestMate and I went there for a meal, to celebrate the fact we've known each other for exactly 15 years, and where else would you go for that?
Fifteen is larger than it looks from the street, with a gin-based bar at the front and two dozen tables tucked off to the left hand side. There's also a narrow downstairs strip, where they stick the larger groups, last night including a bunch of young Draco Malfoys fresh from a bountiful day in the City. Upstairs a mixed unsnooty clientèle was in evidence, from young couples and business threesomes to Essex blondes and large family groups. Staff bustled around the tables, collecting wine from the library-style bookcase or plating up desserts behind a tiled counter with large eyeball-shaped oven. Service was brisk and efficient - we were served by at least five different people throughout the evening - with a cheery, upbeat and unpressured style. And the food was ace.
The cuisine at Fifteen is 'modern British', which means the ingredients for each course read like the contents of a Masterchef voiceover ("Jamie has made burrata with Calçot onion in a smoked walnut jus"). We plumped for a varied menu, an excuse to sample fish and meat and vegetables in several culinary disguises, and which occasionally nudged me out of my comfort zone. An amuse-bouche of cod roe slipped down more appreciatively than I expected, followed by a fillet of cured mackerel ably combined with Granny Smith and buttermilk. For the main course the short rib flaked luxuriantly from the fork, backed by a prime dollop of Montgomery cheddar mash, while an unexpected rhubarb sorbet proved a refreshing palate cleanser before the chocolate and peanut butter jelly finale. Sometimes the food was more decorative than filling, but never anything less than delicious, and comes highly recommended. If only the bill had been fifteen quid, the night would have been pretty much perfect.