The Ivy may not currently be the hottest place to see and be seen or appear in the media as much as it used to in its' heyday but it has class and is still very special.
The restaurant located near Covent Garden, which started life in 1916 as an Italian cafe, has a history rooted in the Theatre land which saw its' popularity soar among actors and Theatre-goers alike. Graced by stars such as Lawrence Olivier, Noel Coward through to Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in the 90's, The Ivy has long been a London Institution. It became one of the most famous restaurants in the world and one associated with glamour and luxury, where diners could rub shoulders with Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, The Beck hams and Elton John.
The inward looking restaurant and the private members club next door along with the fact that photos are discouraged offered privacy for actors and celebrities. In 2014, if you want a place in the papers then the Chiltern Firehouse is definitely the place to go.
The Ivy however, has maintained the old-school glamour and quality combined with comfort and fantastically friendly staff making it a great place to dine.
Having been very impressed by a meal I had there a couple of years ago, I decided to book it for a girl’s lunch a few Saturdays ago. I could only get a table at 2:30pm but was surprised to be able to get one at all only a couple of weeks in advance, having had to book months and months in advance last time we visited.
Due to its' grand history, dining at The Ivy feels like a special treat. We dressed up for the occasion and headed to Covent Garden. When we arrived on time, we were told the table would be ready in a couple of minutes and took a seat in the bar area near the entrance to the restaurant. After perusing the drinks menu we all opted for cocktails from the fairly extensive and reasonably priced drinks menu. All went down well and I thoroughly recommend Drake the Elder which was a cooling elderflower and mint long cocktail that tasted like the best Mojito!
We were seated at a perimeter table with a great view of the whole restaurant. The restaurant was packed full and was loud with laughter and chat. The soft lighting, the carpet, dark timber panelling, the famous diamond stained glass windows preventing views out and the leather banquette seats added to the warm, inviting and bustling atmosphere.
The age group of diners was very mixed - from groups of older glamourous ladies who lunch, to young couples and families. All were welcomed by the friendliest staff who continued to provide a very good but not over-bearing service. For a restaurant with such a reputation and level of fame, it is refreshingly unpretentious and informal.
This is reflected in the menu and the generous portion sizes. The Ivy offers delicious classic dishes such as its' famous Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, Fish and Chips and Dressed Dorset Crab. This is alongside more modern and creative combinations.
All four of us struggled to decide due to the large and varied menu full of delicious sounding dishes. It is definitely one of the most appealing menus.
Having had the starter vs. dessert debate, we all decided to go straight into the mains and leave space for pud. This was a tough decision as the starters looked and sounded very good.
For main I opted for the Hereford Beef and button mushroom pie with a side of cheesy cauliflower cheese and a portion of chips (comfort food or what!?). One friend ordered the same with minted new potatoes and the other two girls went for the Crackling Roast Pork Belly which came with sprout tops, crab apple relish and sage. The Pork Belly was elegantly presented, with a good amount of crackling. I am told with conviction by both friends that it was delicious and one of the best meals they have had of late.
The pie was also one of the best things I have eaten out in a while. It was huge and had a home-cooked charm - packed full with a rich, tasty gravy, the most tender beef and juicy mushrooms, encased in a thick, crisp pastry. It was heaven to eat on a winters day with the light fading outside. The cauliflower cheese was the ultimate comfort food and was perfect.
Four clean plates proved how good it was. Even after the large helpings we were determined to have dessert, due again to the many tempting options. Although I had looked in awe at the sticky toffee puddings coming out of the kitchen and brought to neighbouring tables, the idea of sponge was too much and so I opted instead for the After Eight Sundae. The other girls all went for Crème Brûlée.
The sundae looked and tasted beautiful. Edible gold-painted mint balls and sticks were sprinkled over mint and vanilla ice cream with pieces of dark chocolate and chocolate brownie. As it was brought to the table, the waitress poured a thick, hot, chocolate sauce over top. It was so good and worth going back for alone!
Once again the Crème Brûlée also got top marks.
We followed dessert with coffees and sat chatting away as diners came and went. We were at the table for nearly 3 hours and were not rushed at any point. The staff could not have been more friendly and polite – it was such a relaxed atmosphere.
I would thoroughly recommend The Ivy for a long lunch - especially in the winter due to the good quality seasonal menu and the cosy dining room. The food is delicious, the service second to none and the prices are not at all extortionate for a famous London restaurant.
It also retains the glamour, sophistication and luxury of its' heyday making it a great treat and a very enjoyable place to go.
They are due to close for refurbishment in January 2015 and so I definitely plan to go back as soon as it reopens.....if I can still get a table that is!