The Ivy

Tel: +44 (0)20 7836 4751
Address: 1 West Street, WC2H 9NE
Cuisine Type: modern European
nearest tube station Leicester Square, Covent Garden

I was taken for a surprise lunch at The Ivy for my birthday by The Bloke. Apparently, he had to book more than three months in advance, and the waiting list for dinner is even longer. I was astounded, not at the advance booking period (which is legendary), but at the forward planning he’d demonstrated. And from more recent evidence, I would be even more astounded if this was repeated.

For those sceptics out there, the popularity of The Ivy is not just a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating prophecy: not only has the proposition been geared towards the right blend of luxury and informality, they have managed to perfect all those little details that make dining here such a treat (once you’ve overcome the hurdle of securing a table, at any rate).

The staff are extremely friendly and, without empirical evidence to back this up (not being a celeb), I’m sure they treat the mere mortals amongst us with the same easy-going courtesy as the A-listers they served the night before. The room itself is comfortable and elegant without being pretentious, with a buzz that never escalates to the point it becomes disagreeable noise. I particularly liked the lattice windows, dotted with diamonds of coloured glass.

The food is similarly pitched – whilst not haute cuisine, the focus on simplicity and competent execution of down-to-earth favourites has paid off, as the menu has plenty of “eat me” appeal. The sommelier was also close at hand to guide us through the varied and surprisingly affordable wine list, selecting a mellow chenin blanc at a very reasonable £13.75.

We started with a creamy kedgeree (£7.50), lightly spiced rice packed with flakes of smoked haddock and salmon topped with a soft poached egg, and bang bang chicken (£6.75), succulent chicken with a glossy peanut glaze. The only drawback of this otherwise fantastic comfort food was that the portions are almost too generous; I was verging on full after my starter. There are lighter options such as crispy duck and watercress, Belgian endive or shelled lobster salads, but I’m not sure how the diet-conscious bootiful people manage to resist eggs benedict, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs or shrimp and chorizo risotto (several of which can also be ordered in larger portions as main courses).

The Bloke ordered halibut (£19.75) while I had duck confit (£14.50); again, nothing fancy, simply garnished and text-book examples of how they should be cooked. The ample choice could also include shepherd’s pie, double pork sausages with roasted apple and creamed mash, saddle of lamb with creamed onions or The Ivy Hamburger.

At any other restaurant, we would have stopped eating at this point, already having to lean backwards in our seats to accommodate our noticeably extended bellies. But mild panic set in when we realised that if we didn’t have dessert, it would be several months before we could even contemplate getting another table. So we soldiered on, not even going for the easy option of ice cream or sharing, but plumping for the wickedly indulgent sticky toffee pudding (£6.25) and chocolate pudding soufflé (£6.50). I’m not even going to try to describe them; suffice to say they were worth the three month wait.

Maybe it’s a good thing the waiting list is so long – otherwise I might just be down there far too often. And if it weren’t for such establishments, how else could The Bloke prove that he was thinking about my birthday so far in advance?

– Tracy Yam, 11/2003

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