The last time I spoke to Fifteen’s head chef Andy Appleton, he had been on a trip the previous day sourcing buffalo mozzarella at Laverstoke Park, Hampshire.
As myself and mum were shown to a window table that gave all the illusion and grandeur of being seated in our own opera box with a symphony of sea and sand below, there it was on the menu: Laverstoke Park farm mozzarella with roasted pear, smoked almonds, funky leaves and aged balsamic. And that is what I love about Fifteen: the relentless sourcing for locally-produced, top quality food. What I didn’t like so much was the subsequent dilemma of choosing between the mozzarella or Cornish Deli Farm coppa with chargrilled artichokes, shaved parmesan and local wild rocket.
So to kill the suspense, I went for the coppa, Mum went for the herb-crusted Cornish mackerel with shaved fennel, blood orange salad and roast chilli aioli. I ate a lot of coppa while living in Milan last year, it tends to be the ‘cheaper’ cut of the cured meats, taken from just behind the head at the top of the shoulder, shot through with a cobweb of fat lines. This was exceptional, a fighting meaty depth coupled with the exotic tang of added peppercorns, making it hard to believe that it was from just up the road at Deli Farm Charcuterie, Delabole. Mum’s mackerel was light, with a play of flavours and textures in the herby crust and aioli that turned Hugh’s signature Fish Fight fish into excellence, crowned with the orange gold of Sicily: blood oranges. Watching the show of surfers, bodyboarders and kitesurfers below, our second dish arrived: squid ink taglierini for me (I have a thing for squid ink) with St Austell mussels and lemon breadcrumbs; for Mum – sea bass with a brodo and lemon aioli.
The sea bass had been lifted out of the sea and into, quite frankly, another, better, world on that plate. It collapsed into flaky chunks in the mouth, with crispy skin and a luxurious citrus tingle from the Amalfi lemon aioli; a cushioning of vegetables gave a pleasantly earthy contrast. The pasta? Good but not exceptional. A little ‘noisy’ with flavours and ingredients which were nonetheless very tasty but left me a little overwhelmed. But I enjoyed the pasta itself and the contrast between salty fleshy mussels and crispy bread flakes.
“Have you got room to consider a dessert?” Is the Pope Catholic? I thought to myself. Out loud,
Sweet arancini tend to be a one-off celebratory dish in Sicily as rice balls filled with a meat ragu and peas or mozzarella and ham are more the norm; here at Fifteen Cornwall, I could indulge in arancini with Sicilian lemon syrup. Mum chose the orange and amaretti cheesecake with champagne rhubarb (bang on season). Three little balls arrived in a deep bowl and I shamelessly tore apart the first: it was the best rice pudding ever, held in the clutch of light crunchy breadcrumbs, caressed in a punchy, citrus sauce. Better than the real thing? For a sweet version of a Sicilian classic: yes – I hadn’t tasted better in either Palermo or Catania. Mum’s dessert was an ode to spring: shy pieces of the first flush of rhubarb dotted around a mousse-like cheesecake, blushing in the company of orange and amaretti.
We didn’t opt for cheese but I was hoping for more Cornish choices on the menu, although the offerings were staunchly in support of other regional British cheeses which was inspiring. For booze, I got slightly lunchtime giddy over a deliciously light, dry white from Donnafugata and a glass of Sauternes with marmalade overtones that sat brilliantly with the arancini and orange sauce.
For £19.95, this three course menu, inspired by the flavours of Sicily, demonstrates the continuing ingenuity of Fifteen, the flavours of which will lift you headlong into the perfumes and tastes of spring and summer. Book while you can.
Sicilian Season is a three course lunch deal from £19.95, Monday to Friday from 28 February to 8 April. Fifteen Spring Farmers’ Market on Saturday 26 March has an Italian theme, showcasing local products, located in the Extreme Academy car park from 9 to 3:30pm.