Monday, 27 August 2007
A while ago Cowie promised that we would write a review of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant in Watergate Bay near Newquay in Cornwall. Well, some fortuitous booking, a very well organised girlfriend and a well timed camping trip to Devon saw us zooming down from Somerset to have dinner overlooking the Atlantic.
The closer we got to Cornwall the sunnier it became, a world away from the gloom and smog of London. Cares tumpled away as Cowie overtook caravans and moorland sheep, her Jeep gobbling up the tarmac like the plump green olives from Puglia that were on the menu at Fifteen.
We popped into Newquay, which was my fault entirely. I'd heard people talk about Newquay and wanted to see what all the fuss was about... I don't know why I was expecting good things. It was like the a scene out of John Locke's dystopic comment: "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable".
We left quickly because we'd got bored of seeing shops selling rock, the smell of fish and chips and the sight of beer bellies covered in tattoes. Oh... and Cowie thought she had her wallet stolen, but it turned out she left it in our unlocked car! Whoops!
We headed North from Newquay to Watergate Bay twisting and climbing around the headland before we arrived in a fairly non descript car park with huge pink flags and a sign saying "for Fifteen please go to the far side of the car park". Really informal. Laid back. Well thought out and a quite brilliant location. We loved the pink branding and flags. In fact I wish more restaurants had flags. Not to mention sea views!
We spent a while taking in the view and the menu on display. We licked our lips at the thought of Jamie's seafood risotto and crispy John Dory. Cowie even begged me to not let her tuck into too much of Ken's freshly made bread!
Having checked into our fantastic little B&B, we returned back glammed up and ready for dinner. I'd even starved myself especially in preparation... by not eating all the free biscuits in our bedroom! It was only when we got to the car park again that I realised that I was wearing jeans, a shirt, jacket and flip flops! Whoops... luckily I managed to dig out some boaters from the back seat.
We found our way into the restaurant, feeling like Big Brother stars entering the Endemol house as we walked down the decking to the glorified beach hut... we arrived a little bit too late to see the sunset which looked amazing as we drove along. The table in the corner must have an incredible view for the first sitting.
We were seated on some high dark wooden stools surrounded by copies of Jamie's books with a great view of the view that the guests had. A kind of Godly meta view from up high. The busy kitchen is exposed to the rest of the restaurant; open for guests to see how the 15 apprentices are getting along. Before we had had enough time to take in the menu we were whisked off to our table in the far corner of the restautant. An hour or two earlier it would have been the best table in the British Isles with a 270' view of the sun setting with a blaze of glory over the Atlantic. But at 9 o'clock it was out on a limb and too far away from the action. It just didn't feel right so we asked to move. Ever since a previous girlfriend made us leave a Thai restaurant 10 minutes after sitting down I've always felt a bit British about sitting where I'm told to. It doesn't seem right to be too demanding when you are a guest in someone's restaurant! But when I took Cowie to le Poule au Pot for our 2 year anniversary we were seated disastrously close to the ever swinging kitchen doors... after a few minutes of dithering we plucked up courage to ask to move and it worked! We were very politely moved to a brilliant table in a romantic nook... At Fifteen the collection of waiters looking after us were more than happy to move us where we wanted to go, so long as we didn't mind waiting for them to set the table.
So far so good. The staff were attentive, enthusiastic and pretty glamourous.
For dinner you are forced to eat from the tasting menu, which is fine because the food is very good. But it's pretty expensive at £50 a head. It's also nice to have the option to choose the tasting menu. And it isn't really a proper tasting menu. I guess its just a tarted up set menu. And for this much money the kitchen have to be on top form to justify it. At least they only have to cook from a limited range of dishes.
And just while I'm being critical, if you're going to put a new menu up outside the restaurant daily, you've got to make sure it matches up with the one you are handed when you sit down at your table. The look of disappointment on Cowie's face when she couldn't find her cherished seafood risotto was painful to see. She'd literlly talked about it non stop for the previous 2 hours since reading it in the car park and had really got her hopes up. Anyway, it's just a little thing. But sometimes the little things are important...
Our meal started with a bowlful of the plumpest green olives I've ever seen and some freshly baked bread. Gorgeously juicy and so salty they were almost sweet. The perfect olives. If you were to find Plato's form of the finest olive the ones we ate at Fifteen would be pretty close. We greedily gobbled up the bread, smearing it in thick, green olive oil. Unfortunately the bread was a little bit past its best... a bit of a shame but we got over it.
Good start. But not perfect.
Then came a couple of amuse bouches. One, a golden beetroot compote and the other... was not bad, but let's say it was forgetable! Maybe this sounds harsh. How can 2 little spoonfuls of colourful vegetables ever live up to the hype of an enthusiastic waitress?
Then something brilliant happened. We were served a stunning mozerella, palma ham, melon and aged balsamic vinegar salad topped with orange and purple flowers. I'm not really a salady kind of person but this was delicious on so many levels. The crunch of the lettuce complemented the texture of the mozerella and the coolness of the melon, whilst the saltiness of the ham offset the sweetness of the fruit. All of this was balanced out by the sweet acidity of the 12 year old balsamic vinegar. What a salad! Cowie was in a state of bliss.
After such a light salad we moved onto a delicious ricotta gnocchi in a rich, deep mushroom sauce. 4 puffs of gnocchi isn't exactly generous, but what they lacked in number they made up for in taste. The mushroom and truffle sauce was overwhelming. Really deep. Almost as good as some of the mushroom sauces we had at Villa Anette in Croatia. High praise indeed.
We were then given the choice of crispy John Dory or slow roasted pork on a bed of lentils. I had the pork and Cowie had the fish. I won. My pork was deliciously succulent falling apart like pulled pork and bolstered by the depth from the lentils and red wine. Very tasty. But a bit unadventurous and not really what you expect from a tasting menu. I liked it. But I'm still a bit uncomfortable about it. I would never have chosen this from a full a la carte menu. Now this is where I struggle. If you are going to only offer a tasting menu, you've got to serve up grub that really stretches your boundaries and surprises you with stuff you haven't thought about trying before. My pork was good. But I was forced to eat it and it didn't surprise me.
By this time my tooth, which I chipped last week, was beginning to hurt so I opted for cheese over the sinful white chocolate Tiramisu. I'm a big fan of cheese and Jamie didn't disappoint. It was brilliant... testament to this was the sight of our table at the end of the meal. Cowie's tiramisu lay half eaten and my cheese board lay demolished, no thanks to Cowie who got bored of her desert and tucked into my cheese!
To finish things off we were faced with a vast array of coffees and teas. Not quite knowing what I was doing I ordered a ristretto... and I loved it. It's a quarter of a shot of espresso where you get the first flush of the coffee, rich with crema. I guess it's a bit like having the cream from the top of the milk, or a small slug of extra virgin olive oil. It was so strong it was almost like caramel and so smooth. I'm ordering them from now on! Well done Jamie. Great start to the meal with the olives and a sensational end!
We loved the atmosphere. We loved the decor and the flashes of pink. We loved the refined graffiti. We loved the staff and the fact they gave me 80p to get out of the car park rather than give me change for a Twenty. We loved the newsletter on the back side of the menu full of upcoming events. We liked the food. We adored the Dyson Air Blade hand drier. Giles Coren would love it for this reason alone.