I do love a bit of glamour. I recall being taken to the original Ivy back in 2004. And while I can’t recall what I ate, I recall the excitement of being somewhere so ‘famous’. Fast forward over a decade and now the brand has been rolled out to various locations across London and the UK. The Ivy Market Grill in Covent Garden became a regular haunt as did the one in Marylebone and also the Kings Road branch. They were always great venues for a quick lunch of nothing too fancy but decent wholesome food, building on the reputation of the original for home ‘comfort’ food. Like all good chains you know what you are getting. There is usually a level of consistency you can rely on not to mention a good standard of service and elegant surroundings. And while this is not special occasion stuff, it’s nevertheless a good pit-stop. It’s also the sort of place you book for dinner when you have friends with differing tastes. The Ivy menu is designed for wide appeal and it certainly achieves that - it’s extensive.
So I’ve always been a fan and news of its imminent arrival in Brighton was met with excitement on my part despite being a restaurant owner. For me, its further evidence of the growing appeal of Brighton as a destination and an indication of the growing food and drink market in the City – and this is good for us all. Brighton has been crying out for a glitzy Bistro and the Brighton Ivy delivers just that. Its main draw is its location and décor. It simply wows you with its vast space, high ceilings and architectural beauty. What it lacks in intimacy it makes up for in glamour. The space is divided into sections, the glamourous bar (the best feature) and a mixture of banquette seating and tables and chairs. I have been three times now and by far the only place to be seated is by the enormous beautiful windows, or at the bar. If you are toward the back of the restaurant it’s a bit devoid of natural light, rendering the space garish with bright overhead lighting shining directly above you - unsettling. Twice I have been seated here and had to move.
On the night we were invited to review, thankfully we had the best seat in the house, the corner table in the window. A really lovely place to while away the evening. We were served a perfectly chilled glass of house champagne. This is not a given but here it was perfect. Good quality fizz too. I ordered the Arancini as a nibble and Maarten, a bread man, ordered the sourdough. Both were very good. For my starter I ordered the Duck salad with five- spice £7.95. This came as crispy spicy duck with bean-shoots and radish – an Asian style salad with toasted cashews. It was good (though on a repeat visit the dressing was more overpowering and the cashews un-roasted). The duck came in tiny bits that had been crisped. I would have preferred the duck to be more shredded and soft – it would have balanced better with the crunchiness of the salad and cashews but it was good nevertheless. Maarten’s tomato soup (£5.50) was flavoursome and good value. For mains I chose the roast chicken, it being my favourite thing. It was wonderfully crisped and served with a perfectly good gremolata. Maarten’s shepherd’s pie (£13.75), which he ordered because it’s what the Ivy are famous for (all those rich celebs presumably fed up with fine dining) was described by him as very good but l am not sure it wowed him. It being a shepherd’s pie. Dessert, the signature chocolate bomb, I found unpleasant in its over-sweetness, lack of texture (it’s all one big mush of sweetness in the bowl) and a slightly artificial taste. This was the only duff note in an otherwise very pleasant meal.
On my other visits, I have had the smoked salmon, crab dish and the burrata. The former two great, the latter mediocre. Service is efficient. The Ivy has been criticised for being nothing more than an upmarket version of Cote (it being owned and run by the same company) but that’s rather missing the point. Are there other places in Brighton where the food and service is better? Yes of course. But very few have the glamour and comprehensive offering that the Ivy has. The Ivy is not all about the food, it’s about the evening, the environment, the company. The food plays second stage and that’s perfectly fine. Darling, it’s fabulous.