Rolling up a very normal looking London city back road, and stopping just outside a strangely inconspicuous grey corner building in a black London cab was my first realisation that I had completely miss-judged The Ivy.
As we got past the spiral staircase-consumed entrance and cloak room we were shown through some dark mahogany double doors, and welcomed by a soft buzz of lunchtime dining in a light, traditional and fairly compact restaurant.
I had been invited by clients to sample all that The Ivy had to offer: gourmet food, moreish booze and a very ‘those in the know’ atmosphere. Although my expectations were of a moody, mysterious and forever-night-time haunt, I was impressed. It felt businessy, but we were on a business lunch, so that was ok. It felt friendly which was most unexpected. And, above all, it felt relaxed.
A top London restaurant, with top London prices and a celebrity clientele list as long as my right leg… why did I feel so comfortable? Perhaps the pre-dinner Prosecco? But on further observation‚ the place was full of normal, business folk; just like us, just having lunch. Granted, there were a lot of noses in the air but not a celebrity in sight!
Had The Ivy let us down, had its day, had its wicked way with every celeb in London and burnt out?
My visions of The Ivy being a sultry celeb hangout had all but vanished, when suddenly my client from across the table mouthed “Nicky Chapman!”, to which most of the table replied “Who?!”
Celebrities or none, there is no denying that The Ivy will certainly have gained its original reputation from the thoughtful, seasonal and ‘want to try it all’ menu.
Normally I am the first to order, having looked at a restaurant’s menu a week before visiting to whet my appetite, but this really was a tough call.
Knowing I had a train ride back to Leeds to follow and having been absent from the gym for several weeks, I opted for a fairly light starter/main combo:
Artichoke tortellini, a trio of artichoke filled tortelloni topped with grilled artichoke heart slices, sage leaves and a truffle cream sauce… absolutely gorgeous. The filling was pureed which gave a lovely texture and the aroma floating up from the cream sauce would have had you believe there were some caramelised mushrooms hiding on the plate.
Followed (not too closely) by Fish of the Day: which today was a succulent, pure white and market fresh fillet of hake. Chargrilled to perfection the hake had a super soft flaky texture whilst the charred flavour complimented the surrounding juicy and light dressing of fennel, tomato, black olives, baby shrimp and smoked potatoes.
The aniseed of the fennel was still in-tact and combined with the distinctly different smoky flavours from the fish and potato, the sweet tomatoes and salty olive hit, this dish was an epiphany for me ‚Äì now I appreciate how well the professionals truly understand flavour and have an ability to balance what hits your taste buds with each mouthful.
Whilst I reveled in my food, I watched the other 6 party members on my table.
I watched every one of them equally enjoy three courses, talking to each other about how wonderful their food tasted and giving each other samples to try… steak tartar, tuna sashimi, pork sirloin, rack of lamb, creme brulee… it was diverse but traditional all at once and created an interaction amongst our table that you only get from truly great food. The kind where the first bite goes in your mouth, you refrain from chewing until you’ve screwed your face up, tipped your head back, said “mmmmmmmm”, and nodded. When eating great food, only then can you chew.
The waiters had great banter and I found them to be very attentive, largely backed up by the number of Proseccos I managed to consume given that I was supposed to be drinking the white wine. But I wasn’t complaining and neither were our clients… we all had a fantastic time. So much so we delayed our train home by 2 hours and didn’t feel at any point rushed. I’m sure had we not been required back at base by our loved ones we would have happily sat in for the evening’s service and done it all again!