Places To Eat In Cornwall: Fifteen
I’d booked our table for lunch at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen outpost on Watergate Bay in Cornwall way back when we’d planned the trip in December, so it was just pure luck that we found ourselves sipping beautiful cocktails and enjoyed some fantastic Italian small plates prepared by the Fifteen apprentices overlooking cloudless skies over the beach below as the Jamie Oliver restaurant empire collapsed back in London, and up and down the country. It’s a sad, terrible thing when any business fails, but knowing that we were sitting in the only Fifteen still standing, enjoying a truly outstanding meal cooked by people who are trying to better themselves through food made us all the gladder that it was still there for us, visitors, and most importantly the local community to enjoy.
For those unfamiliar with the Fifteen project, the idea is to help young people who may not have had the best start in life improve their lives through food, learning the restaurant business and opening up a whole world of opportunities to them. Previous Fifteen alumni include the acclaimed food writer Anna Jones, and Tim Siadatan, the chef behind that restaurant I can never seem to get a table at, Padella. You can find out more here. Asking around, as Fifteen is a training restaurant, you’ll always have a different experience. When we visited the food was outstandingly good from the trainees, but the service was horrifically slow. It is something you expect, though, because they’re learning. Other people I’ve asked have experienced the complete opposite. It’s part of the experience visiting somewhere as special as Fifteen, so be prepared to embrace it.
Fifteen is somewhere to go for drinks. Honestly, they served us some of the best restaurant cocktails we’ve ever had. There is a lovely bar in the middle of the restaurant if you get there early, but if you’re lucky enough to snag a table by the window on a sunny day, order an aperitivo of a few drinks, some bread and some olives and watch the people down on the beach below for a while. My Dad’s virgin cocktail was tasty, my Mum’s Aperol Spritz perfectly executed, but I need to give a special shout out to my Hugo – if it is not on the menu when you visit, you can still ask for one to be made up for you. It’s my favourite cocktail and while my local pub makes a mean one, Fifteen take the traditional blend of gin, elderflower cordial, prosecco and soda water to a more refined level.
With another meal out in the evening, rather than getting a lot of small plates to share, we opted to get two each and eat in more of a traditional starter-mains-dessert format. For those of us who were not driving, we had some of the fantastic white wine from Polgoon Vineyard, just down the coast. It was our first introduction to Cornish wine, just before taking our Cornish Wine Tour, and we found it really surprising – crisp and with a lovely minerality, wonderful to go with food in a way that lots of English wines have not yet managed to achieve.
My Mum started with a beautiful plate of perfectly cooked English asparagus with an egg sauce. She’d expected something basic and chopped, but what came was unctuous and luxurious, making this one of the best asparagus dishes we tried in the spring, and the amount we ate between the pair of us, that is saying something! My Dad had the dressed crab – not quite what he had expected coming piled onto a tomato salad, but it was light, rich and bright in all the right ways; a lovely dish. I had what my Mum had coming as her second dish, an incredible and unusual plate of mixed raw and grilled courgette, served over a generous smear of whipped goats cheese with a minty, garlicky dressing and a generous sprinkling of crunchy buckwheat. It was simple, but also made me think.
Next, my Dad had a mouthwatering plate of gnocchi served with a slow cooked pork ragu, and I had the homemade squid ink pasta served with juicy morsels of cuttlefish. It was fishy (in a good way) toothsome and attention grabbing, and showcased a seafood we usually ignore. On the side we ordered the tomato salad. It came with the same excellent extra virgin olive oil as did our bread for dipping, and the unusual but welcome addition of marjoram, but as the tomatoes were not quite ripe enough, it could have been more exciting.
Not wanting to leave our window side perch sooner than we had to, I went for a cocktail on the menu that had intrigued me, but I had moved past initially, correctly surmising it was more of a dessert number, than something to be enjoyed before a meal. As well as looking very pretty, my Pistachio Sour had to be the best cocktail I’ve ever had,. Starting traditionally like a margarita with flavours of lime and tequila, it had a slight savoury edge, before coming creamy, rich and sweet with the addition of pistachio paste. Served over ice it was wonderful and unexpected. Drinking that, overlooking the bay has to be one of my all time favourite food moments.
Shall we talk about dessert? While they were both decent, I think my Mum hit the jackpot with her lemon cake served with poached rhubarb, Cornish cream and mint granita. Unusual, bright and full of Cornish and Italian flavour. However, the frozen strawberry buttermilk mousse served with fresh strawberries, meringue and lemon balm and meringue also rounded off the meal nicely, leaving us wonderfully sated and ready for an afternoon exploring a Cornish stately home and gardens in the wonderful sunshine.