I haven’t exactly been one to indulge in many persistence challenges over the years. For example, I’ve never been able to fathom how one could undertake something so mundane, inefficient and straight-up fucking knackering as marathon running or a twenty-four-hour tiddlywink competition. Despite being far too unfit to even entertain the idea of an endurance tiddlywink contest, the point I’m trying to get across is that I am vehemently averse to repetition, systematic processes and certainty – a well-balanced brew of tedium tea I try to avoid as a rule in life in general, and certainly when visiting a new chain restaurant and stupidly agreeing to write about it.
Who’d have thunk it? The Ivy: the iconic West End institution of fluttering thespians and social butterflies which has stood for a century in a rapidly changing London has held its ground; its roots grow deep. Now, its vines have slowly began to wander and creep through our streets and growing into new climes, in addition to entwining its way through other towns across the country.
I’ve never been a huge proponent of the Ivy; I’ve never understood the hype. My narrative for visiting somewhere is, spoiler alert, usually the food. If you visit somewhere to “be seen” then, frankly, throw yourself into the sea. Also, this often allows punters to fall into the trap of thinking that because somewhere is desirable to sit, the food and experience is astounding. I’ve never found it that interesting as a restaurant or as its new incarnation – a brand in itself. The Ivy Chelsea Garden is a disappointment, and the quality of service seemed to mirror that of its blue-winged rival further up the King’s Road.
Now, Soho is my patch. A sceptical eye is always cast upon any chain-based businesses that take hold in the small part of town that offers the best in independent restaurants and curious crowds. They even opened a bloody Wagamama opposite my club on Dean Street the other day. The cheek of it. Anyway, this is no ordinary chain: this is Caprice Holdings. They know how to do restaurants – and some of my favourite restaurants of all time, for the record. Their first venture into my precious part of W1 would of course, be tasteful and considered. I hoped.
Richard Caring clearly spent a great deal of time and attention on the dining room and bar. The interior is stunning in its size and splendour. It’s like 34 (my favourite of his), and gets a serious kick of colour and expression. Our service from the start was very attentive; the waiter could answer any questions and sort out our wine-corking issue with no hesitation whatsoever. Our alternative was a superb Brouilly at £33. We decided to go classic Ivy: can they get it right. The steak tartare with Laphroaig was well textured and seasoned just right. The shepherd’s pie was hands down the best I’ve ever eaten. My partner in crime opted for tuna steak, perfectly medium but with (off-menu) peppercorn sauce. Trust me, it works.
The overall experience was excellent. We spoke to a lot of the front of house staff and it was obvious that they were running a very tight, professional ship. For day one of official opening, that was excellent to see. The execution of all the dishes were spot on. Our luminous cocktails were somewhat disappointing and the experience overall was, we agreed, slightly too expensive for a brasserie. I think the strengths of the Ivy Soho Brasserie will be the extensive outdoor seating area (which is a rare luxury in a W1 postcode), the bar, and the all-day aspect which I think will lend itself well to Soho. Yes, on paper it was a cup of tedium tea with two lumps of non-surprise. However, the Ivy brand seems to be getting it right now. I’m just glad they managed to finally get it right in the heart of my beloved Soho. Let’s just hope they don’t host the World Tiddlywink Championships anytime soon.