Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Lunch at Fifteen Cornwall...

When I first thought of writing a review of 15 Cornwall - Jamie Oliver's west country venture - it got me thinking 'what are the best meals I've ever had?'

Of all the most memorable meals in my lifetime, none have been the Michelin star restaurants or the swanky central London hotels, in fact, thinking back I can barely remember what food I ate. Of course this can occasionally be put down to excessive alcohol consumption, like the time I was invited to two Christmas do's in one day, the first being in a bar with a bunch of heavy drinking 'laddish' designers, the second at Asia de Cuba at the V swanky St Martins Lane Hotel (with some slightly more sophisticated designers)

Of course I turned up absolutely steaming drunk, trying to act all posh and not slur my words or drop world class food all down my shirt (and failing on all counts), I then got trapped in the flush-wood-panelled-toilets and had to wait for someone else to open the door before casually strolling out.

I do remember seeing some dish in front of me, tasting it and thinking 'WOW this is good', but have no recollection whatsoever of what it might have been. And I don't think I offered any money for the bill (though I can't really remember leaving!)

So, thinking of some of the best meals I've had, they seem to be linked more to the location I was at or to a particular time of my life. Several occasions from our travelling days stand out - A fish curry at dusk on a rooftop restaurant overlooking Trivandrum on the first night of our trip, with all the new sounds, sights and scents of South India exciting and intoxicating our London-weary souls.

Then, on an overnight train, being brought idli sambaar for breakfast on a metal tray. Or a masala dosa with coconut chutney in a cheap Kottayam cafe before the start of our backwater trip.

And THEN there was Singapore, Thailand & Malaysia!!

So, is it just the discovery of something new that my tastebuds have never experienced before?

Not necessarily. A communal meal in the front garden of our student house in Somerset, with cheap wine & candles and a pot of slightly burnt Paella will stay with me til the onset of alzheimer's.

With all this in mind, the trip to Fifteen Cornwall with a couple of good friends is almost up there with them.

Firstly, a big plus was the fantastic location - overlooking Watergate Bay on a blustery day with waves rising and crashing onto the huge expanse of sand.

We got there early with plenty of time for a brisk stroll on the beach (dog and child included). The weather remarkably turned in our favour on our arrival and the relentless driving rain relented, giving way to a brief offering of sunshine.

After a quick change of shoes by the boot of the car, we made our way to the restaurant.

The outside appearance seemed surprisingly subtle, not how you'd imagine the cheeky chirpy cockerny to brand his 'gaff'. Maybe a measure of reserve was used so as not to offend the locals with a grand display of London money.

In fact, we were unsure how our very Cornish friends would react when telling them we'd booked there. Fortunately they were actually very supportive of the project, as it employs local young people mostly from troubled backgrounds.

The interior quite took me by surprise, all very open and modern with a slightly odd mix of 'style' and 'street'. I wasn't overly keen on the graffiti type illustrations (actually applied vinyl cut, not real graffiti) - just thought the style looked a touch dated (although I AM from the creative industry, and my wife's an illustrator!).

The stars of the show for me were the hanging 'drip'lights, the open kitchen and of course the view. Overall there's a very relaxed informal atmosphere which fits very comfortably in this part of the world.

OK, I should mention the food shouldn't I?

Now, I have a couple of fussy nutritional requests, mainly no sugar & yeast, and even though I'd explained in advance I was still slightly apprehensive about ordering. I needn't have been - when asking the waitress whether I could swap the desert on the set menu for cheese, she had already checked beforehand and said it was absolutely fine! Now that's good service.

On top of that I am 'a bit' vegetarian - nothing hardcore, I just rarely cook meat, or order it when eating out.

However, I cannot feel overly compassionate towards a pigeon. So I started with the Pigeon Breast on Roasted Beetroot and what I believe was Quince.

All very good flavours, only one minor flaw was that the breast underneath wasn't pink inside, but hey.

I did have a very small taste of the Ribollita, which was intense, punchy and packed with herby flavour, REALLY good - the favourite dish of the day.

For mains I had locally caught Pollack, Pan-Fried on top of Braised Fennel, with a salsa verde and fennel leaves. Nice simple flavours, worked very well.

The house red, a Montepulciano, was superb. My son had Fifteens own 'Traditional Herbal Cola', I had a tiny sip and got an explosion of different fragrant herbs & spices. Would be awesome with a good vodka.

The two cheeses were served with 'Carta di Musica', a flat wheat bread/cracker, which they'd prepared yeast free. This was the first time I'd eaten cheese for several years and this was first class cheese, a real treat to finish the meal with.

All in all a fantastic day. One I shall long remember, perhaps not for the great food alone, but also the atmosphere, the walk on the beach beforehand and a couple of hours spent with fine wine and good friends.

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