Arriving at “Fifteen Cornwall” after almost a week of fish and chips and pasties (the heavy baked Cornish pastry filled with chopped beef and potatoes) is truly comforting.
A spectacular view over the ocean (we're on Watergate Bay, on the northern coast of Cornwall), a breathtaking sunset, the unbuttoned atmosphere of a beach café – and an Italian menu. Jamie Oliver, the media guru of English cooking, has never hidden his love of Italy. His restaurant, Fifteen Cornwall, at the top of the charts for five years, has a special twist: the menu is inspired by Italian cucina, but 80% of the ingredients are zero-kilometer, strictly local.
On the staff are formerly unemployed young people from the area, many with problem pasts, who were specifically selected and trained by the chef and are coordinated in the kitchen by Andy Appleton.
The menu changes twice daily and follows the seasons. Open seven days a week, three meals a day, the restaurant seats 100, with 12 more in a private dining room reservable on line (beware the waiting list). The tasting menus, fish or meat, can be paired with wines.
His philosophy? Local, seasonal, fresh foods; recipes that are simple and balanced. (Jamie is known for his crusades against junk food.) The antipasto featured focaccia by Da Bara's bakery, giant Pugliese olives (Mammuth), and fried, ricotta-filled zucchini blossoms – a true tribute to Italy. Also spied on the menu: burrata, black figs, toasted hazelnuts, balsamic vinegar and tiny date-shells. Fish is provided by Matt Stevens, nicknamed "The Codfather". For over fifty years, he has been the go-to fishman for all of Cornwall's great chefs. (Celebrity chef Rick Stein's restaurants in Cornwall are supplied by the boss of St. Ives.)
Scallops in hot sauce, sea bass with zucchini caponata and salmoriglio, calamari in tomato and fennel salad were all deliciously fresh and enhanced by generous drizzles of Tuscan olive oil.
The only misstep - overly rich desserts, typically English. Cornwall is the birthplace of clotted cream and doesn't let you forget. It's easy to become addicted to this heavy, ivory-colored full cream from raw cow's milk. Panna cotta with honey, shortbread and raspberries is decidedly too rich. Perhaps Amedei's chocolate cake, also on the menu, would have suited us better. A plus for the informal but meticulously cared-for setting, and for service (a rare find these days): a staff member at the door for reservations and seating, sommeliers who were discreet but always at hand when needed. One suggestion: if you're on a budget, opt for lunch (£27 for the tasting menu) rather than dinner (£57 for the tasting menu).
Michela Di Carlo