It's a brave new world at Fifteen
BRISK February winds whip across the beach as ice-white waves hurl themselves onto pristine sand. Even on the chilliest of days, the views across Watergate Bay are spectacularly beautiful.
Overlooking the bay stands the Fifteen Cornwall restaurant, where diners absorb the unique setting while scanning the menu for delectable temptations.
Since its opening, it has built up an enviable reputation for fine food and drink while training some of the county's most disadvantaged youngsters in the restaurant industry.
It reopened on Saturday following a brief closure for a £500,000 revamp.
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Builders ripped out the bar, kitchen and the entire restaurant interior, including the ceiling and floor – even the restaurant's trademark pink graffiti wall was swept away.
The facelift has been relatively rapid, with the restaurant having only shut in mid-January.
Step inside the welcoming warmth of the restaurant now and the changes are immediately apparent.
In the dining area, the restaurant's recognisable pinks and greys have vanished to make way for a more glamorous palette of white, greys and metallic silver, with the merest trace of orange.
However, upon closer inspection, the faintest whisper of Fifteen's original pink lingers among the new decor.
New additions include an antipasti bar where customers can be waited on under a shimmering chandelier.
The elaborate adornment was created with 38 individual lights, each one made of hand-blown glass, reflected in a wall of antique mirrors.
The kitchen remains open-plan, but has been opened up even more to give the 17 professional chefs and 20 apprentices extra working space.
Diners will now have an even better view of the team busily working their culinary magic amid an orchestra of boiling pans and shining knives.
Jamie Oliver gave the overhaul his blessing.
"Fifteen Cornwall has been open now for six wonderful years, and so it was definitely time to give it a bit of a facelift and put some love back into the four walls," he said.
"The guys have created a brilliant place for our apprentices to learn, develop and hone all their skills and, of course, there is nothing else like it in the South West. I'm ridiculously proud."
There were a number of reasons for the overhaul, as chief executive Matthew Thomson explained.
"It's important to secure growth for the business for its long-term stability," he said.
"Tourism-wise, Cornwall had a difficult 2012 because of the recession, the weather and the Olympics. Like lots of other restaurants, we saw fewer customers coming through the doors.
"And, since we launched, more top-quality restaurants, including those run by Nathan Outlaw and Paul Ainsworth, have opened up so there's obviously an element of extra competition.
"If people are travelling to Cornwall on holiday and maybe having two or three special meals out then we want to be one of those two or three."
The new kitchen cost three times the amount of the old one and should last for 15 to 20 years.
A team of innovative British designers from Gloucester-based Space drew-up the blueprint and installed the kitchen, but the pièce de résistance is a £90,000 French-made oven called an Athanor suite.
Actually, it would be inaccurate and unfair to simply describe it as an oven – it is in fact a 20ft-long "hot island" in the middle of the kitchen. The island has a gas oven, hot plates, two hobs and a pasta boiler.
Head chef Andrew Appleton had a major say in the new design and regards the centrepiece as an absolute godsend.
"Everyone can work around the hot island, which creates a better workflow around the kitchen," he said.
"It's so much better for the apprentices because they've got more space to stand next to one of the professionals to watch what's going on.
"It's even more open-plan than before, so customers can enjoy the theatre of the kitchen."
The new kitchen was a year in the planning and extra space was the main ingredient.
"Don't get me wrong," said Andy. "I've worked in some terrible basement kitchens in London with hardly any room – the old kitchen we had at Fifteen was not the worst I've worked in by a long chalk.
"But it was pretty cramped and equipment was beginning to break down and had to be replaced, which could prove costly.
"It's a bit like when things start to go wrong with a car and you have to keep having work done to keep it running.
"After a while you're just throwing good money after bad and it's better to buy a new one.
"One of our old ovens kept breaking down and it became a bit of a nightmare. There were times when we were left with only one gas stove to work on and 150 people booked in for lunch, which was no joke.
"But because we're an open-plan kitchen we just had to carry on as if everything was totally fine.
"Somehow you get through it – you just have to work with what you've got."
His particular pride and joy is the new charcoal-fired £10,000 Spanish-built Josper oven – essentially an indoor barbecue.
"We're well-known for our fish dishes, but I really want to start pushing beef further up the menu," he said.
"The restaurant is growing up and we're going to offer more choices."
With one of the busiest nights of the year just around the corner, staff will be testing the new kitchen to the maximum.
"We've got Valentine's night coming up and it will be great to be in a new kitchen.
"It's been brilliant watching the whole project come to life from early designs to installation," he said.