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To many it might come as a surprise that one of London’s most famous restaurants is situated at the junction of West Street & Floral Street, a slightly obscure corner located between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. The fact that the Mousetrap has been playing opposite for over 65 years and Stomp just up the road for over 15, gives you the feeling when walking through the area that you have slipped back in time a decade or two.
The Ivy is one of the few restaurants in the UK that is a household name in its own right. Long associated with theatrical and media professionals 2017 will mark the centenary of its doors first opening. As a class act it’s been around a while now, it was here that Herbert Morrison, deputy prime minister in the post war Atlee government first rejected Britain’s membership of the European coal & steel community, his Brexiting credentials would no doubt put him at odds with the majority of the contemporary clientele.
For me the Ivy’s heyday was from the late 80’s through to the early noughties. As an institution it made the papers almost as much as the celebrities vying to get a seat in it’s fabled dining room. I remember that once, around the turn of century, I visited with a young lady who was working evenings at a law firm and so could only dine after 10 for the post theatre sitting. The lateness of the hour helped to magnify my natural grouchiness and I complained volubly about the lack of celebrities to be spied, when she helpfully pointed out that Kevin Spacey was standing next to us. Oh well.
For me this my first visit back to the Ivy since it reopened after a refit about 18 months ago I think. To be honest the dining room itself had come to seem a little, well how shall we say, yes careworn previously, now upon entering it sparkled like a Tiffany lampshade writ large. I don’t know whether it was a trick of design or decoration, but the bar area seemed more imposing than previously, this gave the dining room a bit of a feel of a grand cafe, somewhat like the Wolseley or the Delauney.
I’d surprised the Delightful Dining Companion (DDC,) by bringing her here. I was feeling in the mood for a little celebration having just successfully completed my probationary period at a new job. She settled herself comfortably onto the corner banquette that made up the seating for our table for two. We started with some cocktails, a G&T for her and something called a Novello for me. This was composed of gin, calvados, grapefruit juice and soda and tasted like a seabreeze would have done had it received a public school education.
For starters we had a couple of sharing platters, one of crispy soft shell crab, which we both felt was delicious and one of popcorn shrimp which was also you guessed it, delicious or perhaps I should say delightful. To go with the main courses I had been recommended a Chilean wine from the shallower end of the wine list. This came in at £33.50, a snip compared with a few bottles that we found over the £2,000 mark, but perhaps over what you’d pay elsewhere for similar.
That being said, it was lovely, a rich slightly fruity flavour, yet still dry but with a chocolatey smoothness about it. I had difficulty keeping it in the glass to be honest. It provided to the perfect accompaniment to my winter warmer of a main course of Guinness braised Hereford beef, with dumplings, carrots and turnips. The DDC opted for the Ivy hamburger, one of the best in the business and a hardy perennial on the lists of best burgers in London. She said she liked it, but due to the size of our starter portions was unable to finish it. I tried some of the fries and they were genuinely as top notch as fries can be.
Service was polite and classy without being snobbish. We were made to feel very welcome, despite the fact that our collection of clothes and bags strewn over the seat made it look slightly like a tramp had taken up residence. I have to say that this was in sharp contrast to one occasion sometime in the past when whilst dining before a friends wedding we were pretty much thrown off our table without even having time to finish our drinks.
The bill came to £150 for two courses with wine and cocktails, that’s not cheap and at what I’d say is the upper end for the type of cuisine the Ivy purveys. What sort of cuisine is that I hear you ask, I believe it’s what used to be termed international with a veneer of British classics, over time the Brit grub seems to have become more prominent. The Ivy is a very very good restaurant, and the food is very very good, but unlike a Ramsay or Blumenthal doesn’t for me stretch you so much as comfort you.
Do I recommend the Ivy, well yes. It might not dominant the gossip columns quite how it used to, but each visit does feel like an occasion. The staff were truly wonderful, and the food a class act. Is it the very best food, perhaps not, is it the very best dining room, again perhaps not, but to be in such strong positions across so many categories makes it a strong contender for overall best night out.
Till the next time.
1-5 West Street
London WC2H 9NQ
020 7836 4751