New to Gaia Group’s arsenal of restaurants is Ivy. Opened recently in the IFC, this is the fourth restaurant by the ever expanding dining group in the luxury mall. The new addition promises cuisine from the French Riviera, which was part of Italy until it was handed to France in1860. The region carries a heavy Italian influence and continues to maintain an amalgam of culinary traditions.
Occupying the premises that formerly housed St Betty’s, Ivy has a laid back atmosphere well suited to romantic dinners thanks to dimmed lighting and a soundtrack of eclectic French music. The space is large thanks to (a no doubt expensive) prime placement on the harbour side of the mall, with floor-to-ceiling windows boasting sweeping views over to Kowloon. Duck-egg blue furniture, copper light fixtures, crisp white table cloths and a large open kitchen make the space modern and airy, while leather trellis-like sections provide intimate corners.
Each table is set with a colourful plate of lemons, fresh French cherry tomatoes and sea salt. Unsure whether it’s a table decoration or a nibble, we ask the waiter who explains we should squeeze the lemon over the tomatoes and sprinkle the salt. The dish proves to be a quirky, welcome accompaniment as we browse the sizeable menu.
For appetisers, we order the escargots ($188) and beef tartare with paprika mayo, cornichons and pine nuts ($218). The excellent tartare comes with organic egg yolk served in its shell – a charming touch to a dish not always presented most aesthetically. The expected creaminess of the mayo is absent, but the distinct smokiness of the paprika and vinegary cornichons add a stimulating flavour to the meat in its absence. The escargots arrive baking hot, and the tender snails and addictive garlic butter have us mopping up every last bit and craving more.
One of our mains, langoustine and sweetbread ravioli with shiitake mushrooms and oregano ($298) is badly timed and arrives midway through us devouring the escargots. Although, in fairness, the menu does warn that dishes will arrive as soon as they’re ready. Sadly, by the time we get round to eating it, it’s rather cold. The portion of ravioli is meagre for a main and the buttery-ness of the sweetbread is overwhelmed by the langoustine, which doesn’t taste particularly fresh. The saving grace of this lacklustre dish is the distinct, savoury flavour of the shiitake mushrooms.
Fortunately, our other main, roasted duck legs with orange glaze and braised Belgian endive ($328), arrives to save the day. The orange glaze is a delicate enhancement of the mildly gamey duck, and the skin lies somewhere between crisp and melt-in-your-mouth owing to the superb roasting. Regrettably, this isn't the kind of restaurant where we can tuck in with our hands, else we would have stripped the bones bare. The endive is braised to perfection with delicate charring on the exterior. Positioned below the duck, it absorbs the bird’s juices and eliminates any bitterness.
The dessert menu has fairly light offerings, such as pastries and crêpes, yet we opt for the heavier triple chocolate tart with crème Anglaise ($138) and the passion fruit curd meringue with tropical fruit and coconut sauce ($118). The tart is crumbly and doesn’t fall into the trap of being an overly rich dessert, compliments of the crème and salty biscuit base. The meringue, though pleasant, is a little too sweet. The passion fruit curd is sparse and we long for a more generous helping of this delightful ambrosia. The fruit is fresh and the mango and coconut sauce pleasantly reminiscent of Thai-style desserts.
Overall, we enjoy our meal and Ivy is on the right track with its atmosphere. The staff, though polite, are still floundering and encountering some teething problems. They haven't quite nailed the Riviera reputation of luxurious simplicity, and the dishes Ivy excels at are not strictly synonymous with ‘cuisine du soleil’. Stick with the more traditional French offerings and chances are you won't be disappointed. Holly Graham
Ivy Shop 2075, Level 2, IFC Mall, 8 Finance St, Central, Hong Kong, 2383 4028; gaiagroup.com.hk.
Shop 2075, Level 2, IFC Mall, 8 Finance St, Central, Hong Kong