One of the grand dames of the London restaurant scene, recently refurbished and relaunched.
Once upon a time, if you were a celeb, you went to The Ivy. That was back when Chiltern Firehouse could still send a fire engine if your kitchen was ablaze. In the 1990s and 2000s, pretty much all you had to do to be a celeb was to go to The Ivy, and then be papped as you left. It was exclusive in the wrong sense of the word.
But times have changed. The celebs have gone elsewhere. And now – after an expensive five-month refurb – The Ivy is once again open for business. It’s ready for you and me, without the three-month wait once endured by us hoi polloi. Getting a table still isn’t easy, though I eventually secured seats at the bar.
Mind you, it remains a parallel universe. When you arrive, you’re made to feel like you’ve arrived by the charming maitre d’, smiling waitresses attentive wine waiters. The room was always a looker, but it’s been scrubbed up, and it’s now even better than before. The feel’s still classic and timeless: dark wood, flattering lighting, well-chosen art, green leather seating, smartly attired staff. A huge new central bar allows good views of the beautiful mullioned stained-glass windows.
The new menu combines old Ivy favourites with some recent additions. The famous shepherd’s pie is there, with its rich browned-meat flavours, along with old-fashioned seafood dishes such as plaice with earthy brown shrimps, doused in a buttery sauce. The Ivy made its name on this sort of comfort food: it’s like what you might get at a top boarding school, only better.
New dishes have also been included to modernise things a bit. Tea-smoked short ribs is a Chinese dish popularised by Hakkasan. The Ivy’s version was a little dry and chewy, a little sweet, although tasty. But it stood out among the heirlooms – it just didn’t seem to fit in.
Our meal made it clear that you still don’t come to The Ivy for brilliant cooking, but complaining about that would miss the point of the place. It’s a wonderful experience despite some culinary shortcomings. The room is beautiful, and the staff hospitable till the moment the doorman waves you off. This is why The Ivy remains a treasure: five-star service and a room so good you barely notice the three-star food.