Basement, 115 – 117 Collins Street (Enter through Georges Parade)
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Monday - Saturday, Lunch 12 to 3.00pm and Dinner 6 to 10pm
1300 799 415
(Image courtesy of Ms. Phil)
It wasn’t until after I finished my dining experience at Fifteen Melbourne that I really asked myself the question “Why is it that I chose to eat here tonight instead of say, Vue de Monde or Ezards or any other equally pricy degustation restaurant?”
Sure, the most obvious motive to dine at Fifteen is the restaurants’ relationship with Jamie Oliver himself. How can one not be attracted to the idea of a superstar chef whose knowledge and passion for fresh produce and a casual, slap-up approach to cooking has driven the once kitchen fearing water burner back into the cuccina. Those armed with one of Oliver’s many tomes and a willingness to undertake his Italian inspired fare-made-easy behave like they were born to it.
Oliver made cooking and food sexy again and the wives/girlfriends/lovers of the world thank him for it.
And with this already winning combination of excellent food and sexiness, let us add to the mix Jamie Oliver’s celebrity lifestyle which boasts Madonna, David Beckham and Brad Pitt as his best mates. Who wouldn’t want to spend a night at Fifteen in the hope that some of that elusive fairy dust might sit on your shoulders just for one night?
But let us not forget the Fifteen project itself? Most of us know about Oliver’s much publicised vision to provide employment opportunities for disadvantaged youngsters by bestowing them the skills and the framework to become superstar chefs not unlike himself. And it is indeed a truly wonderful idea. Even if the lustre of television and celebrity association tarnishes in time, these now fledgling chefs will eventually have the transferable skills to make a go of it in pretty much any commercial kitchen in the world. And that is a wonderful gift.
So is Jamie Oliver, the Fifteen program and the six month long wait list for a table reason enough for seven of my chums and I to spend an evening eating the finest food Fifteen can provide and to lay down a cool $1000 for the privilege of it?
And aside from the Oliver hyperbole as well as my beloved SJX's desire to have a photo taken with Toby Puttock from ‘Ready Steady Cook’, the fact of the matter is, I went to Fifteen primarily for the immensely glorified food.
And in short, the cuisine was horribly disappointing.
Being a self considered foodie-type, what with the considerable sum of my annual salary going towards my hedonistic lifestyle of good eating and drinking, given the reputations of all involved, my expectations were reasonably high.
But that burst of anticipation, swiftly vanished when I was presented with the six course tasting menu, which was given to us in a post-80’s fluorescent pink paint splashed folder, which didn’t seem to share any cohesion with all the other manner of fashionable funk displayed at Fifteen Melbourne. I can only describe this décor as something that will no doubt be out of style as soon as this current nu-wave revival decides to bury itself again for another 20 years. But more on this later.
A sinking heart followed my first course of proscuitto salad with peach, buffalo mozzerella and ‘micro’ herbs after it was presented to the table. All the ingredients were fresh of course, to go alongside the ethos of the establishment and presented in that discernable tasting size portions, but it was a just a little bit dull and certainly didn’t kick off the tasting menu experience and our enthusiasm for more.
This was followed by sardine fillets, baked with a pinenut, fennel seed and lemon zest. This dish was good but not radiant. The sardines were tender and moist, with a crust that was inventive and flavoursome. A resurgence of optimism came from our table after this dish however I couldn’t help feeling like the food wasn’t going to get much better.
Meanwhile, our vegetarian counterparts were presented with zucchini flowers with a basil aioli in lieu of the sardines. This dish looked green and well, saucy. It was difficult to tell what was actually sinking under the aioli. I didn’t get to sample this dish, however when I asked Elaine how it tasted, she responded with a lacklustre “Meh.” No points scored from the vegetarians on this one.
Moving right along to the pasta course, we were presented with some exceptional options and some that were not so great. I chose the Fifteen ravioli with bio dynamic ricotta, free range egg yolk and served with a white asparagus and butter broth. It was quite possibly the best item on the entire menu and an absolute gastronomic triumph. This pasta, with a hint of citrus and delicate, runny egg yoke nestled around the ricotta centre made me demand to see the man who made this dish so I could personally thank him for his efforts. It was utterly superb!
The other pasta courses were regrettably not as thrilling. An dreary stracci with cherry tomato, basil, balsamic and parmesan dish was seriously yawn inducing, and not because of its simplicity but merely because this tomato based pasta lacked any inspiration whatsoever. It was indeed the meal one makes for themselves when you can’t really be bothered cooking.
The pappardelle of rabbit ragu, mascarpone and parmesan didn’t rate so well either. The creamy mascarpone didn’t do the excessively salty and overcooked rabbit any favours. SJX frowned at the end of this course and someone at the other end of the table muttered “Why did that taste like milky fish?”
The remainder of the meal didn’t recover. The main of slow roasted lamb with alforno potatoes, spinach and black olive salsa was offered as cuts of meat that was so incredibly fatty, to actually consider it having any lamb underneath the fat at all was a doubtful conclusion. Oh, and did I mention that this ‘lamb’ was served cold? Unintentionally? My plate was cleared away with half of my meal still on it, consisting of cold lamb fat and a side of watery spinach.
Another main of grilled monkfish with Mount Zero Lentils and rainbow chard didn’t make it to the table until 15 minutes after everyone else had received their mains. And the verdict from Baby Dukes when asked? “It’s ok, I guess.” Hmmmm.
The vegetarian’s main option was crumbed eggplant with goats cheese and tomato sauce. Again, uneventful and left the vegos feeling ripped off at the lack of innovation with the cuisine.
A tiramisu ‘with a twist’ was presented as our dolce course. And the ‘twist’ was undercooked long grain rice in the bottom of a shot glass, topped with mascarpone and chocolate, served with crostolli sticks that were stale and coated in icing sugar.
The final course of bio-dynamic South Gippsland aged cheddar and a velvety double blue was enjoyed by the table, along with muscatels, pear and quince paste. The cheese was first-rate and appreciated given the calamity our taste buds tolerated throughout the sitting.
I also found it very difficult to relax at Fifteen. The hyper colour surroundings and intensely busy human traffic left me feeling rather unsettled. The décor is a mish-mash of unconsolidated styles (80’s urban graffiti meets Renaissance gilding meets Better Homes and Garden) and the designer seemed to not know what they wanted it to be. I did truly love the glass balls suspended from the ceiling doubling as herb pots, brimming with healthy sprigs of parsley and basil. Very cute indeed.
That’s not to say that the entire experience was a debacle. I must make special mention of the fact that the service was utterly, supremely flawless. Prudent wait staff made every effort to ensure our experience was pleasurable and endeavoured to grant our every whim including an introduction to the remarkable Paddy, gentle giant and Fifteen apprentice responsible for making the exquisite ravioli of eggy, cheesy love. Although our appointed waitress failed to deliver Toby Puttock to my beloved Shane for an introduction and photo-op (he was talking with his publicist, we were told), we noted that she did considerable leg work to oblige our request.
So would I eat at Fifteen again?
I am quite prepared to spend considerable sums of money on fantastic food but what I am not prepared to pay for is a reputation that doesn’t match its high calibre status.
I also don’t buy into the argument that because the chefs are students, I should perhaps not expect so much from Fifteen.
Would you be happy to pay the same prices if we were to eat similar substandard food prepared by an apprentice at another restaurant instead of the kids at Fifteen?
Me either which is why you’ll not find me sitting at a table at Fifteen again.
I would much rather my money go to the William Angliss College and support the goals of their apprentices. I hear that the food is really very good and I am also comforted in the knowledge that the glory of cooking will forever be their own, and not Jamie Oliver’s.
In the provision of fairplay, please find a review from Vicious Ange who very much enjoyed the food at Fifteen.