Fifteen Trattoria – The Ingredients of Success

Fifteen
15 Westland Place
London N1 7LP
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • Lunch menu: Antipasti platters from £7.50-12.50, Primi from £9-15, Secondi from £18-22.50, Sides at £3.45, Dolci from £4-6
  • For the full set of high-resolution photos, please visit my Flickr set for this meal (there are a lot more photos there)

Our second meal at Fifteen was at the more casual Trattoria. We much enjoyed our leisurely weekend lunch and were again very impressed by the sourcing and quality of ingredients and the technical competence of the kitchen. While a few dishes didn’t whet our appetites as much as the other plates of food (some of which were stellar), we liked the laid-back vibe and I would thoroughly recommend Fifteen to anyone who lives in London and hasn’t yet been.

Four for part two

As readers of this blog may remember, Mrs. LF and I dined at Fifteen’s more formal restaurant (the downstairs ‘Dining Room’) shortly after entering the world of food blogging. Unfortunately, these were the days before I began taking photographs of our meals, so we don’t have any images to remember the meal by – but it remains an extremely memorable evening. This was largely down to the sourcing and quality of the ingredients, which was exemplary, and they were handled with the utmost care, with the kitchen bringing out the best of what the produce had to offer.

We have always wanted to return, and finally did a few weeks ago. This time we opted for the more casual ground floor Trattoria as we had Baby LF and my mother in tow.

Building up

It was a funny old day, as Jamie might say, with very English weather – meaning that it was hot then cold, rainy then dry, light then dark, and so on. I did manage to get a decent shot of the building that Fifteen inhabits.

If you have seen the TV series Jamie’s Kitchen, you will most likely recognize Fifteen’s facade. A huge financial risk at the time, luckily the venture – which pairs a commercial business with a good cause (more on that here) – seems to be thriving, with four branches now open in London, Cornwall, Amsterdam and Melbourne.

The bustling trattoria

We got a table adjacent to the bar at the back of the room and made ourselves and Baby LF comfortable. Our waiter had a quite a unique personality, but more on that later.

Getting prepared

We found it difficult to order as so much of it sounded tempting, and we weren’t sure whether to do the traditional Italian thing of having four courses (Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Dolci) or not. My mother had just come from spending two months at The Italian Project (now completed, by the way) in Umbria, so we decided we might make like The Eagles and take it easy. Somehow the best intentions (i.e. jut ordering a few dishes) never seem to materialize into reality with my family…at least when it comes to food! 🙂

Eight was all we could manage

Although the appropriate aperitif to order would have been Prosecco, I wanted my mother to try out a glass of English sparkling wine as they had Nyetimber on the menu and they are one of the better producers.

Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée 2005

And this ‘classic’ English sparkling wine was a good way to start off the meal. It had tons of tiny bubbles and was quite crisp and refreshing with a medium body and a little richness to it. Mrs. LF, not a fan of English wines (hey, she’s from Northern France), said it tasted cheap to her, but I (mostly) begged to differ on this occasion.

Assortment of Breads

The white and brown breads were okay, but nothing special; however, the spongy soft focaccia had been lined with onions and was excellent. 7/10.

Cerro del Masso Olive Oil

The olive(r) oil, on the other hand, was fantastic, bursting with virgin freshness (no, not in that way) and a lovely gentle heat. We had a few refills. 9/10.

I would like to point out however that I think it is very cheeky to charge separately for the bread and oil (in this case £3.25), especially when the restaurant’s prices are high enough to absorb this cost. I know they bake them on the premises, but I still always feel insulted in the UK when they ask you to pay for bread, when this is never (or very rarely) the case on the continent.

Antipasti for Sharing: Mixed Salumi, Mozzarella & Verdura Mista

We decided to opt for the shared antipasti plate, and this was pretty good bang for the buck. The mozzarella in the center was one of the stars of the plate and was excellent both in texture and flavor; the green olives were also of the highest quality (and reminiscent of the ones served at Dukes Bar); the beetroot had been seasoned and cooked to perfection; the salami was one of the best I’ve had; and the bresaola (at least that’s what I think it was) was also fantastic. The marinated vegetables were also very good. 9/10.

My share of the antipasti

I decided to artfully arrange a selection on my little plate, as of course I had to take some more photos! 🙂

This platter was a great start to the meal, and a perfect insight into the food at Fifteen: nothing was overly complicated, but everything was executed very cleanly, allowing the produce to speak for itself.

Risotto 'Al Limone' with Roasted Amalfi Lemon, Goats Cheese, Basil & Chilli Pannagratato

The risotto ‘al limone’ certainly sounded like an interesting combination of flavors, so we couldn’t resist ordering it. It came very prettily presented, and it was interesting in taste too – well, in a way. First, your palate was assaulted by lemon, then there was no flavor at all in the middle (you were just left to chew on the perfectly cooked risotto, which did have a lovely bite), and it finished with a bit of muted goats cheese in the background. If you caught a bite with some of the crispy flakes, they were infused with a serious chilli kick, which also added a strong flavor. The thing about the dish was that each taste sounded a unique note, but none of them integrated with each other, and somehow the overpowering sensation was that it was a very bland dish, as there was definitely something missing in the middle. Possibly it needed a main ingredient, such as seafood or a vegetable to tie it all together. So in sum, it sounded great, looked beautiful and just tasted sort of odd. 6/10 (due the technically perfect cooking of the rice itself and sumptuous texture).

Mafalde 'Fatte in Casa' with a Rich Pork Ragù alla Napolitana , Flat Leaf Parsley & Fontodi 2009

The only other dish which didn’t meet with universal praise during our lunch was this ragù served with mafalde pasta (which my mother says is referred to as the ‘ugly’ pasta in Italy). I thought the pasta itself was excellent and must have been homemade, but the sauce was a little too bland; it didn’t have that richness and deepness that you expect from a good, slow-cooked ragù. The pork itself was pleasant in flavor, aided by just the right amount of fennel, but overall it was merely a good plate of pasta, not a great one. 6/10 (due to the quality and perfect texture of the pasta itself).

Risotto 'Ai Frutti di Mare' with Seafood, Samphire, Chilli, White Wine, Garlic & Bottarga di Muggine

My seafood risotto, on the other hand, would have had a good case for being the dish of the afternoon. The rice was again perfectly cooked, just creamy enough and with great chewiness. The first thing that hit me was the flavors of the sea, which had been infused marvellously throughout. There was salmon (cooked to the perfect texture for this type of dish), a variety of shellfish, and the lovely infinitesimal spheres of golden grey mullet roe scattered everywhere – inside, outside and on the rim of the plate for decoration. At first, I thought they had used too heavy a hand with the white wine, but after the first bite, it all worked together in chorus, with the garlic in evidence as well. This was about as good as a seafood risotto as I’ve had in London. Stunning. 9/10.

The remains of the risotto

The only issue I had with this dish was that they had made the mistake of giving me the main course portion, not the starter portion. But I ended up eating it all anyway, of course.

Glass fifteen full, but still empty

My glass didn’t stay empty for very long after arriving. But I thought I’d wait to describe the wine we had with the Primi until after describing the food.

2008 Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc, ‘Aulente’, San Patrignano

The wine I had to accompany my seafood risotto was exactly what you’d expect to find in a 50/50 mix of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It had a very expressive and insidious nose, with citrus notes and some of that typical Sauvignon zing. On the palate it was quite dry and exhibited both the apple flavours of Chardonnay and the grassiness of a New Zealand Sauvignon, with the former grape contributing a nice body and roundness and the latter grape bringing balance through its acidity. It was a very good match for the risotto.

We were pretty much stuffed by this point, and couldn’t really endure all of the main courses we had originally ordered. We asked our waiter if we could cancel them, but it was too late for two of the three, so we ended up having those anyway.

Oh yes, I promised more on that waiter…he was very nonchalant throughout the whole meal and had no problem giving us his honest opinions and direct feedback on the dishes. For instance, when we told him what we thought of the lemon risotto, he replied with something like, “Yeah, I know. 9/10 customers love it, but I don’t think it works, it’s too weird.” Then he volunteered that he also didn’t like one of the other combinations of ingredients that was used in a dish they served in the previous month (I believe it was strawberries and balsamic, which is obviously a tried and tested dessert combo). We found him amusing and it was both interesting and refreshing to have a waiter who didn’t tow the corporate line but actually interacted with you on an individual basis.

Crown Prince Squash Parmigiana with Sage, Parmesan, Seasonal Leaves, Balsamic & Crème Fraiche

Even though we were only sharing two fairly light-sounding main courses, it still seemed like a big ask to finish them. Nevertheless we persevered, and thank God we did. This squash dish was delightful in its simplicity. The sweet orange squash square was complemented perfectly by the crème fraiche and the balsamic that had been drizzled on the salad leaves was heaven. Every taste worked together and nothing was awry on this wonderful (vegetarian) main course. 9/10.

Seared Yellow-fin Tuna with Panzanella (Tomatoes, Ciabatta, Volpaia Vinegar, Red Onion & Capers)

My main course of seared yellow-fin tuna was one of the better tuna dishes I’ve had. The fish itself was seared perfectly – take a look at the photo below – and again, simplicity was the order of the day. The panzanella was to die for, the tomatoes being exceedingly sweet, buoyed by the same balsamic, and then cut through by red onions and capers.

Seriously seared

It was such a fresh, vibrant and moreish plate of food, I just had to finish it all…yet again. 9/10.

Technically speaking, we didn’t have room for dessert, but in my family, THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR DESSERT! Given the circumstances, we decided to share one between the three of us, and opted for one of the simpler sounding choices.

Vanilla Pannacotta, Raspberries & Homemade Biscotto

Let me just say this up front. The quality of the pannacotta itself was just mental. It was so creamy, so full of delicate vanilla flavor, and so delightfully wobbly while at the same time retaining its form when shaken or portioned up on our plates. It was the best example of the dessert I can recall. I would have been perfectly happy having that by itself on a drip for a few hours, but it was very well paired with some surprisingly sweet raspberries (not the ‘raspberry compote’ that the menu advertised, by the way) – my hunch is that they were from Secretts, but I didn’t ask – and a really wonderful homemade pistachio-laced biscotto (not the biscotti that were promised on menu). In short, Italian food heaven on a plate.

And that was the perfect end to a very long and very lovely lunch. 10/10.

The other side

It was so good, I decided to include two pictures. 🙂

Closing time

The room had pretty much emptied out by the time we finished, so I took one parting shot.

Waistlines & wallet weights are inversely proportional

After a small adjustment to the final bill (they charged us for the starter portion of seafood risotto we had ordered and not the main course portion we received), it worked out to about £120 for three people including service, which I think was reasonable for the quality of the food, although we only had two mains and one dessert. Put it this way, Fifteen (even the Trattoria) ain’t cheap.

I’d like to give fifteen a ten

We all really enjoyed our time at Fifteen’s London Trattoria. It has a fairly random and funky design, which works well with the vibe of the neighborhood and the fact that it is Jamie’s baby. In fact, on balance, I probably prefer the upstairs dining room to the downstairs one – unless you get one of the booths at the back downstairs which then makes you feel as if you’re eating inside a very expensive purse and is quite cool. Anyhow, the Trattoria has a good atmosphere and is a fun place to hang out for a leisurely lunch. One quibble was that the music was very loud when we arrived. This is one of my (and Mrs. LF’s) pet peeves, as music that is overly loud doesn’t allow people to engage in conversation easily, which to my mind is one of the main points of going out to eat with family and friends. That said, we told our waiter this at the outset of the meal and he happily adjusted the volume to be a tad softer, which made it much easier to hear what we were saying to each other.

I see the mantra of both dining rooms as being: “it’s the ingredients, silly.” And that’s the way it should be, with Italian food especially. At Fifteen, you just know that you are eating very good food that has been sourced very methodically and with bags of passion. The way these ingredients are cooked is also nearly always technically very good, although I’m not sure about all of the flavour combinations (but at least they give their kitchen trainees room to experiment). And sure, there may be the odd inconsistency (both in the food and the front of house) given the turnover of staff I imagine that they have due to the ambitions of the venture, but these certainly didn’t deter us from having memorable two meals there, the first being and exceptional, and the second being very good.

For whatever reason, so far as I can tell, the restaurant doesn’t seem to attract much attention in the food blogger world (maybe it’s not new enough any more?), but I would say it’s one of my favorite Italian restaurants in London, right up there with the likes of Ristorante Semplice, River Café, L’Anima and maybe Il Baretto (I am somehow yet to visit Locanda Locatelli as well as some of the newer entries). It’s certainly better than Bocca di Lupo in my book, but I’m visiting that restaurant again soon, so will report back.

If you haven’t been to Fifteen, I would recommend trying it out. Oh, and if you’re curious, it runs circles around Jamie’s other Italian offering based on my meals there at various branches around the country, though it is definitely more expensive.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Food: 8/10

Wine: the Trattoria wine list comprises a relatively small selection of well-picked whites and reds (about 10 of each), of which about half are available by the carafe of glass. There are also a few sparkling, rosé and sweet wine options. The wines are mostly Italian and English, although there is the odd Spanish or French one thrown in. It’s nice that prices by the glass start at less than £5 and don’t exceed £9.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Fifteen London twice, once for dinner in the Dining Room, and once for lunch in the Trattoria.*

Fifteen Trattoria on Urbanspoon

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Le Manoir Aux Cat-Cat Saisons – A Purrfect Underground Dinner with Friends

Le Manoir Aux Cat-Cat Saisons
Big Flat
Something Mews
Highgate
London

We were entering the domain of the Cat called Cat...Jedi mind tricks and good food were sure to follow

We were entering the domain of the Cat called Cat...Jedi mind tricks and good food were sure to follow

Come Dine with Us

A few months back, we met up with our good friends and got to talking about the wonderful cult hit TV program, Come Dine with Me. My friend, let’s call her ‘Madame M’, is as completely obsessed with the show as we are, and had even considered following up on a leaflet she got through her letterbox asking for applicants in her area. She decided she liked the idea, but just without the TV. So we came up with the brilliant notion of doing a ‘Come Dine with Me’ with a few groups of friends, just without cameras and all of that hoopla. We haven’t quite gotten around to it yet, but I did get a slightly intriguing invitation to “come ‘round to ours for a really casual bite to eat”, at which a few of our other friends might attend. So a few weekends ago, we turned up, and were a bit surprised at what we found.

Before going into the meal that was to ensue, I must make you aware of the most important fact about my friends, ‘Dr. J’ (no, not the basketball player) and ‘Madame M’. They have a beautiful, gourmet, well fed (i.e. often plump) orange striped cat. He is quite an unusual fellow, and they are completely obsessed with him – it is as if he is the child they have not yet had. He rules their home, and their next door office, and what he wants goes. His name is ‘Cat-Cat’ or ‘Cat Called Cat’ (yes, seriously), and there is no doubt that he rules the roost.

No doubt who’s King here, then...

No doubt who’s King here, then...

A bit more than expected

Upon arrival, Madame M took our coats and bags and showed us straight out the back door to the Middle East – literally. They had somehow constructed a tented area with cushions, candles and such in true Bedouin fashion. It was a sunny late afternoon, and it actually felt like we had been transported somewhere very far away from a Highgate mews.

A large pitcher of a wonderful chilled Pimms concoction wasn’t far away and our glasses were filled and refilled seamlessly. There were certainly a lot more people than I had expected, but you never know who might turn up to these guys’ abode. The kitchen was also in a quasi ‘lock-down’ mode, but I was officially granted a ‘press pass’ as I had promised to immortalize Cat-Cat and the meal through my blog. I was even allowed to take photos. And thus it was that a little casual dinner for a few people turned into a well thought-out seven course feast for 12 friends. In typical fashion, they were planning to pull this feat off with only about 3 hours of planning. Some people are just laid back, man.

Filet of Beef

The pure glory of a 21-day hung filet of locally farmed British beef

The Food Doctor gets to work...

The Food Doctor gets to work...

Once I was finally allowed into their large open kitchen, I realized that this meal was truly no joke. Dr. J had bought an amazing locally farmed English beef filet which had been hung for 21 days and some mean looking Welsh lamb chops that had been French trimmed. I documented quickly but didn’t dawdle as there was some serious work going on and I didn’t want to be in the way. Back to the tent I went.

Place settings had been set at their formal dining room table and also along their beautiful wood and glass coffee table with a U-shaped couch arrangement. I was also magically appointed sommelier for the evening simply because I am so obsessed by wine these days, and not because I actually had a clue what I was doing (well, maybe some sort of inkling :)).

Course 1: Watercress Soup

Course 1: Watercress Soup

The first course was actually served outside in the tent as it was so pleasant out there. This was a beautifully simple start to the meal. The soup had a perfect consistency, nice and thick (thanks to a bit of potato that was blended into the vegetable stock) but not too much so, and had a very good depth of flavor, with a little dollop of crème fraîche giving it that little bit of luxury. Besides watercress, there were undertones of leeks and garlic. It was a well executed starter that was in tune with the season. 7/10.

The good doctor prepares the carpaccio

The good doctor prepares the carpaccio

Course 2: Filet of Beef Carpaccio with Mustard & Side Salad

Course 2: Filet of Beef Carpaccio with Mustard & Side Salad

Next up was Dr. J’s perfectly executed beef carpaccio. He had seared the edges of the filet perfectly evenly and there was a crispy crust of herbs encircling each thin slice on the outer rim. The expertly executed simplicity of this dish allowed the true star of the show – the well-hung piece of English beef (pun definitely intended, as it was such a big hunk of meat) – to bask in its own undisputed glory. It was lovely with the bit of mustard and the accompanying salad was also elegantly sparse, with high quality, thinly shaved parmesan and fresh rocket with a tangy honey, white wine vinegar, olive oil and mustard dressing. 9/10.

Course 3: Seared Scallops with Coriander Masala & Lemon

Course 3: Seared Scallops with Coriander Masala & Lemon

The next instalment was very pleasant and a good portion size in context of the entire meal. While one of my Indonesian scallops had been perfectly seared and was juicy, fleshy and sweet, the two others had been just slightly overcooked, which made for a more rubbery texture that somewhat masked the underlying flavors. This was probably inevitable, though, given that there were by my count about 36 of them served all at once. The scallops themselves were very fresh and the accompanying sauce (well, more like a paste in terms of consistency) of coriander, mint, cumin, garlic and extra virgin olive oil was a very innovative pairing of flavors which worked exceedingly well. 6/10.

I had brought along a bottle of 2006 Bodega Catena Zapata Chardonnay (Argentina), which I thought would go especially well with the scallops, and we weren’t let down. A good match if I do say so myself, with the richness of the chardonnay marrying well with the sweetness of the scallops and the slight tang and depth of flavor in the coriander paste.

Course 4: Pancetta, Pea & Broadbean Risotto

Course 4: Pancetta, Pea & Broadbean Risotto

Next up was a little serving of risotto which was served in beautiful cocktail glasses. Top marks for presentation, however at the chef’s own admission (Madame M in this instance), the risotto had been prepared earlier and was being reheated before serving. This led to the very common problem that we’ve probably all experienced in an Italian restaurant: it was too dry and lacked that luxurious unctuousness that a good risotto oozes, which contrasts so well with some perfectly al dente rice. This was a real shame because the classic combination of pancetta, peas and broadbeans was delicious and the flavor really worked, plus it was well seasoned. 4/10.

Course 5: Lamb Chops in ‘Top Secret Marinade’, Mashed Potatoes & Broccoli

Course 5: Lamb Chops in ‘Top Secret Marinade’, Mashed Potatoes & Broccoli

The main, main course was excellent. The lamb chops had been marinated for a long time in a ‘secret’ concoction, and not even my press pass was going to get me the ingredients to that sweet elixir. Whatever the case, it was damn good – succulent, juicy and full of flavor. I could have easily dusted off two more. The mashed potatoes could have been more silky and creamy and the broccoli had a good consistency although it wasn’t really seasoned that much. 8/10.

The smiling chef prepares the strudel

The smiling chef prepares the strudel

Course 6: Apple Strudel with Vanilla Ice Cream

Course 6: Apple Strudel with Vanilla Ice Cream

The dessert was a simple Apple Strudel with nicely cooked sweet apples and dark raisins resting on a bed of filo pastry. The thin pastry was crispy and it was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which is never going to be a bad combination (unless you’re my father, who insists on chocolate ice cream with everything – even apple pie!). 6/10.

Course 7: Petit Fours

Course 7: Petit Fours

After the dessert we moved back to the tented outdoor area where we were served some petit fours of flapjacks and chocolate brownies. There was nothing remarkably memorable about them in comparison to some of the previous courses (they were store-bought after all), but they were still much appreciated and tasty with a glass of fresh mint tea. 5/10.

The evening stretched on in a very leisurely fashion, with some of the guests partaking in a much fussed over shisha ritual, some lighting up classy cigars, some sipping on Bailey’s or single malt whiskey (or both), and some making sure that all of the leftovers were not going to waste (see  middle picture below).

The Tent & Barby Cat-Cat Does His Thing After Dinner Relaxation

The best Sunday evening in ages

All in all, it was a tremendous evening and a great time was had by all (and I do hope this included the joint chefs, as they really put a lot of work into the meal). Madame M and Dr. J were the consummate hosts, plying their guests with drinks which were magically refilled at the right moments. And while they were constantly busy, they appeared to be completely laid back and shiny, happy people throughout the evening. Their living room had been set beautifully, with candlelight and nice wine to get people into the mood. And the Bedouin tent was truly inspired.

The overall quality of the food was of a very high standard for such a quickly planned event for a lot of people, and while there were a few shortfalls here and there, that is not what anyone will remember. Rather, it is the generosity of the hosts, the pleasure of spending a lingering evening with new friends and old, and the laid back yet passionate culinary impulse behind the whole evening that will stay ingrained in our memories for a long time to come.

Long live the Master of the House, Cat called Cat, and his loyal subjects.

Bravo!

Rating

Ambience: 10/10

Service: 8/10

Food: 7/10

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Le Manoir Aux Cat-Cat Saisons many a time, but never so formally and never so nicely. Hats off to Madame M and Dr. J.*