The knives are out for Jamie as diners complain of poor food and 'rip-off' prices

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This was the big idea to promote the career of the wonderkid of British chefs, and its charitable concept, matched with fine cooking, won acclaim. But now Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant has been damned for lacklustre service, high prices and poor food.

This was the big idea to promote the career of the wonderkid of British chefs, and its charitable concept, matched with fine cooking, won acclaim. But now Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant has been damned for lacklustre service, high prices and poor food.

The criticism in the influential Harden's London Restaurants Guide, is based on the views of ordinary customers at the venture, which involves training unemployed young people for the catering trade.

Critics have said Oliver, plucked by a television company from the obscurity of the kitchens of the River Café to instant stardom as The Naked Chef, is not cut out to be the grand chef-patron to which he aspires. His ubiquity, his Sainsbury's television commercials - earning him £1m - and his chirpy Essex-boy image, his "pukka" catchphrase, gangs of "mates" and telegenic wife Jools, have arguably kept him on the naff side of national treasure.

Fifteen, in Hoxton, east London, was meant to give gravitas to that lightweight image. But Harden's says it has inspired "huge levels of dissatisfaction" among restaurant-goers, and it has the guide's lowest ratings for food, service and ambience.

The idea behind Fifteen was to film unemployed but aspiring young cooks being knocked into shape by Oliver behind the scenes while serving great food to diners out front. Profits would be returned to Oliver's Cheeky Chops charity which funds the venture.

Jamie's Kitchen, which followed the idea from the drawing board, was a Channel 4 ratings success and restaurant critics applauded the modern British and Mediterranean-influenced cooking. It was booked months in advance by those prepared to fork out more than £100 for two, plus wine.

But the goodwill evaporated. Last December, the Square Meal guide, which, like Harden's, is based on the views of ordinary customers, said it had "page after page" of complaints. Now Harden's, quoting reviewers, says: "Jamie Oliver is seriously taking the piss at his 'amateurish', made-for-TV Hoxton venture, where 'average' food comes 'at Gordon Ramsay prices'. Just because it's a charity, doesn't give them the right to rip people off." Fifteen is rated worst of all 32 restaurants in the £65-a-head category.

Richard Harden, co-editor of the guide, said: "It shows that Jamie Oliver has yet to demonstrate he is a very good chef in the mode of, say Gordon Ramsay, whose prices he equals. I think his credibility is now on the line. He has no special skills.''

Harden said the difference between Ramsay - whose food is still praised as "world class" by the guide - and Oliver was that Ramsay had spent years establishing himself as a chef before launching his media career. And so far, his restaurants had retained their quality.

To rub salt into the wound, Harden's praises the Hoxton Apprentice restaurant, sited near Fifteen, which was set up with government and local enterprise funding, to train unemployed people for the catering trade. Applauding its "simple, sensible menu at fair prices", the guide says: "Jamie Oliver could learn a thing or two."

Fifteen has opened a new restaurant, Trattoria, which serves brunch and a range of cheaper and simpler dishes. Harden's said it was too early to offer opinions. The guide praises Tom Aiken's nearby restaurant as a "major new force" in London dining.

A spokesman for Oliver said: " Harden's goes to press early in the year and I suspect many of the people contributing came to the restaurant 12 or 18 months ago. It is different now. We have a new restaurant manager and service has improved considerably. We have dozens of thank-you letters a week and hardly any complaints. The reason it is expensive is because they go to great lengths to source ingredients so they know exactly where it all comes from. They also go for the best quality, and use organic produce when possible."

The Ivy tops Harden's list of Londoners' favourite restaurants for the 10th year in the row. Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's is third in the top gastronomic experiences, and third in the most disappointing list.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

Hugh Peto for LondonView.co.uk:

"Unbelievably rude service, a surly manager, ordinary food, silly menu, broken loos, shoddy decor - all at absurdly hiked prices. It looks like the good cause has obscured the point: to serve good food at reasonable prices in a relaxed environment. Jamie Oliver needs to get it right before expanding."

Fay Maschler for the 'Evening Standard':

"The food is pretty fantastic - as it should be for the money. Profits go to Cheeky Chops charity to train ... and nurture unemployed, disaffected youth."

Gaby Huddart, editor of Square Meal:

"We've got page after page of complaints. A main course can cost £27. For that, people expect good quality food and service."

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