Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and olive reader Jurate Wall compare notes on The Ivy.
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for The Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook Let’s Eat Meat is out now. (£25, Pavilion)
Jurate Wall is a research scientist at King’s College London and eats out twice a week. She loves South-East Asian food, and her favourite dining-out experience was at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons.
The Ivy has a new, glamorous, art deco look, although chef Gary Lee’s menu is still a showcase of national favourites with great emphasis on seasonality. The classic shepherd’s pie remains, alongside other favourites such as deep fried haddock and chips and The Ivy hamburger. But you can also enjoy a more refined meal – try the seared yellow fin tuna, or dover sole on the bone. Director Fernando Peire runs the slick front of house team. the-ivy.co.uk
Impeccably drilled, highly trained and ready for any eventuality, The Ivy front of house team is the Special Forces of the restaurant world. Glasses are constantly filled, waiters by your side the moment you contemplate ordering, and even the most obstreperous of clients are dealt with with well-polished grace. In fact, the staff seem to anticipate one’s every demand, and they do all this with charm and warmth. A class act. *I was recognised.
The service was excellent from the moment we stepped in. I was running a little late and my husband was shown to the table and offered a drink and a newspaper while he waited. Our request for tap water was fulfilled, with a smile, and it was topped up throughout the evening without having to ask. We picked the wine ourselves and were told that it was a good choice.
The Ivy was never all about the food, even in its pomp. But it did the comfort classics very well. For the past few years, though, it seemed like the Norma Desmond of Caprice Holdings, a great star fallen on hard times. Food moved rarely above the average. Now, with this sexy new facelift, standards are high once more. Asparagus is verdantly fresh, and comes with an oozing poached egg; Bang Bang chicken sits in a slick of nutty sauce; crispy duck salad juggles salt, sweet and savoury with luscious aplomb.
Dover sole, grilled on the bone, is every bit as pert and noble as you’d expect. Beautifully cooked too. The shepherd’s pie is back to its glory days, the most intense, slow-cooked lamb, crowned with a burnished mass of buttery potato, and surrounded by a small lake of rich, deep and delightful gravy.
OK, so the bass ceviche lacks heat and a little seasoning, and has sat in the lime for a moment too long. But this is a menu filled with things you want to eat, cooked exactly as you’d want them cooked, No fuss, bother or flouncery, just good old fashioned grub.
The menu was divided into easy-to-follow sections (classics, grazing, sharing, grill etc). It was light on vegetarian choices, although there was a separate vegetarian menu featured on the website. Everything seemed reasonably priced (even better with the set menu), especially given the standard of service and surroundings. I had beef tartare, which was spicy and had just the right amount of chopped gherkins and capers. My tuna was cooked exactly as ordered, and was still slightly pink in the middle. A side of artichoke, anchovy and green beans worked very well with the tuna and the whole dish looked appetising.
My husband had asparagus, egg and prosciutto, which was colourful, well presented, and the egg runny enough to dip the asparagus. His main of lamb rump was juicy and pink. With a fresh and zingy quinoa tabouleh, and the whole dish was richly flavoured and generous in size. The side dish of Jersey Royals was just right, and everything was well seasoned.
The bottom line
There’s a new bar, which makes the whole place rather, dare I say it, democratic. And the refit is handsome and elegant. That elusive buzz is back. With a restaurant like The Ivy, atmosphere and service are as important as the food. It’s a fun, civilised London institution (with a well priced menu) that has rediscovered its heart, soul and mojo.Welcome back. Bill was £270.06 for two, including service.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOTAL 24/30
We loved the luxurious but understated décor and buzzy atmosphere – the restaurant was full to the brim, and has been since re-opening. The Ivy offered good value and I would go again. The service is far better here than at some other, similarly priced restaurants in London. Bill was £145.19 for two, including service.
FOOD 10/10; ATMOSPHERE 9/10; SERVICE 8/10; TOTAL 27/30
Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
Overall, the choices were well sourced. The beef in the tartare is almost always British, free-range and pasture-fed, and they have a sustainable seafood policy, too. The asparagus and egg starter ticks multiple boxes, featuring one of Britain’s finest seasonal ingredients (the review took place during the asparagus season) and, of course, free-range eggs, but it’s disappointing that more of the ingredients aren’t sourced locally. The wine list features a number of English bottles. There are examples of good environmental practice, but there’s still a reliance on air-freighted goods and there are gaps in the restaurant’s recycling. thesra.org.