The nostalgic Playground chant "School Dinners" may remind us of the undesirable flavors of concrete chips, sloppy semolina, and pink custard. However, school dinners hold significant cultural importance in Great Britain, even more than the warm ale or crown green bowls. One would assume such a traditional and treasured element of British culture to be immune to change, but celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is set to shake things up. He has announced his upcoming TV series, Jamie’s School Dinners, in which he attempts to revitalize canteen menus by introducing new and healthier options.
In this regard, we invited two school pupils from London to dine with us at the Italian restaurant, Fifteen, owned by Jamie Oliver himself. Vanessa Anderson, who is only 12 years old and a fan of spaghetti bolognese and Chewits, and 11-year-old Kissa Mwaluseke, who has a fondness for roast turkey and KitKats, joined us for a unique culinary experience.
Fifteen didn’t resemble the school canteen in any sense of the word. The Italian language dominated the menu, causing confusion for some of us. Our delightful waitress, Verity, helped us understand the various dishes by translating the different terms. We ordered the antipasto, roast spring carrots, and main courses, which resembled an entirely different cuisine than what the girls usually ate in their school canteen. Vanessa opted for risotto verde with lemon zest and ricotta salata, while Kissa decided to try the sage parpadelle with duck ragu agro dolce.
As we waited for our food, we were presented with a bowl of Ciabatta slices, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, olives, anchovies, and Parmesan biscuits. The girls tried the Italian appetizers nervously. Kissa tried anchovies for the first time and found them to be salty. Meanwhile, Vanessa felt happy with Parmesan biscuit and stated it was similar to Mini Cheddars.
Vanessa and Kissa expressed their views about the school canteen’s catering system, describing the food as dry pizza, burgers, cold chips, lasagne, and curry. They voiced their opinion regarding the monotony and inadequate healthy options in the school’s menu. Vanessa encouraged healthy eating habits and had a secret liking for vegetables, especially broccoli, while Kissa did not like salty foods and couldn’t stand the sight of olives.
In conclusion, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s School Dinners is a step in the right direction to offer more nutritious options in school meals. The girls’ visit to Fifteen provided them with a unique dining opportunity to try new dishes from international cuisine that they would never have tasted otherwise.
Verity arrives to gather the empty plates and Kissa and Vanessa seize the opportunity to inquire about the restaurant’s celebrity clientele and Verity’s encounter with Trevor McDonald. Vanessa leans in closer and whispers, "Where is Jamie Oliver?" Verity assures them that he is somewhere in the restaurant. Vanessa admits her admiration for his culinary skills while Kissa chimes in with a mention of her mother’s Jamie Oliver cookbook. They all agree that Jamie is a charming and good-looking man. They even speculate on rumors that he recently injured himself while cooking in the nude.
As the main courses are served, Vanessa expresses her delight with her risotto and praises its decoration. She even questions if she can eat the basil garnish. Meanwhile, Kissa challenges Vanessa’s opinion by declaring her own pasta dish as the tastier one. She clears her plate with astonishing speed and boasts that she is the fastest eater in the world. Vanessa, on the other hand, regretfully admits to having consumed too much bread.
They have no time for dessert as they need to catch the school buses and tackle their homework. Overall, Fifteen’s diverse menu impressed them. Kissa notes that the restaurant offers a wider range of food than their school. They all agree that Jamie should take over school dinners. The duck, risotto, and parmesan biscuits were among their favorites, and they all praise Verity for her excellent service. They even joke that she should become a dinner lady.
Fifteen’s new trattoria is now available for bookings at Westland Place, London N1. Reservations are not necessary but can be made at 0871 330 1515.