I’ve been to The Ivy, a renowned West End venue for dining and rubbing shoulders with the well-heeled and allegedly famous, no fewer than three times. The first was with my ex-wife, not celebrity spotting (we didn’t spot any) but because we always did enjoy fine dining; the second time was a business lunch in the private room on the first floor; and the final time was for my Dad’s 70th birthday.
On each occasion the strengths of the restaurant were plainly evident, none of which related to its fashionable status: service was utterly charming and of the old school (by which I mean knowledgeable and efficient), food was solid and dependable, ambience warm and friendly, and a good time was always had by one and all. The dining room itself is worthy of note, being both comfortable and well-sprung, a tad old-fashioned and laden with stained glass as its distinguishing mark.
The reputation of the Ivy precedes it, notably in the legendary difficulty of getting a table, unless you happen to be a celeb of course. In practice, so long as you book in advance and don’t expect to waltz in for a prime table that night, it’s often possible to find a niche. Supposedly only two thirds of the tables are bookable, the remainder retained for the ‘in crowd’. I have no way of knowing, but that would be consistent with a restaurant whose PR policy keeps it firmly in the headlines.
The menu, in the words of a certain critic (whom I loathe and despise for his arrogance, but who is a regular and wrote a book about said restaurant) can best be summarised as “Empire food”. That is, it covers all corners of the globe, plus anywhere else Brits have been seen. It evolves steadily over time, but can usually be depended upon to serve certain signature dishes. Want steak tartare or a roast chicken with foie gras stuffing for two? They are ubiquitous. Fancy sausage and chips, eggs benedict, salt beef hash, pasta, rice, Welsh rarebit, baked alaska…? All there, present and correct! Perhaps a bit too comfort-foodish for some tastes, and not purist in any sense, but the food is good quality and always well-presented.
A definite feel of old-fashioned comfort food to the menu, but you can choose wisely or not. My dad did not, though talking of rice he had plenty of that: kedgeree as a starter and chicken curry as a main course, which you might feel left him somewhat over-riced and over-curried. He seemed quite content though, so live and let live.
All told, I guarantee you a great time at the Ivy, and it is possible to dine splendidly without spending the earth too. Go easy on the wine list and the caviar, you will escape for about £40-60 a head, no bother. However, go because it’s a decent and friendly restaurant, not because it’s celeb-friendly.