The Ivy celebrated 100 years as one of London’s most famous restaurants this year – quite an achievement in a metropolis with a shape-shifting population always seeking out The Next Big Thing.
A trip to The Ivy is something special, but Londoners eat out a lot, often in a will-I-be-OK-in-trainers kinda fashion. Director Fernando Piere, who joined The Ivy in 1990, clearly knows this, as he’s been quietly expanding The Ivy Collection with a series of brasseries and cafes to ensure the institution stays an integral part of London culture.
The Ivy Tower Bridge is one of the latest launches, and having dined at The Ivy, like many Londoners, just the once, we bounced off towards Tower Bridge after work one Friday evening brimming with anticipation. First impressions? Well, with Tower Bridge as its neighbour, it certainly has kerb appeal – a seat on the terrace here is a check-list must for tourists and Londoners alike.
But head indoors for some seriously impressive interior design. It’s grand without being grandiose. Opulent without being ostentatious. It’s that bit of glamour that you’d expect from The Ivy, without being stuffy or overbearing. And in a city that’s full to the brim with white-washed casual eateries, it’s a bit of a treat. Soft golds, rich terracottas, tiled floors, sparkling mirrors, contemporary artwork, swathes of greenery and smartly upholstered bucket chairs.
There are staff everywhere, some greeting and seating, some whisking food and drinks to and fro, some keeping a quiet eye on things. And then you look down at the menu and glimpse The Ivy Tower Bridge Hamburger for £14.25. That’s cheaper than most pubs – how is that even possible?
It’s good to know I can call in here for lunch or dinner on a whim without the AmEx. And I fully intend to
Of course, we were after something a little more ‘The Ivy’ than a burger, but it’s good to know I can call in here for lunch or dinner on a whim without the AmEx. And I fully intend to. (They also, FYI, do a Champagne Afternoon Tea for £27.50.)
After ordering a couple of glasses of The Ivy Collection Champagne to assist us in perusing the menu, which is extensive by today’s standards but not overwhelming, we settled on a steak tartare for me (hand chopped beef striploin with Tabasco dressing, cornichons, shallot, parsley, egg yolk and and toasted granary; £9.25) and tempura prawns for my friend (crunchy fried prawns with green papaya, cucumber, edamame and a matcha tea sauce; £9.95). Both pretty darn pefect.
And our waitress, Natasha, who was chatty and utterly charming, regaled us with quite the tale of the first time she tried the matcha tea sauce, informing us that she didn’t like the sound of it at all during a staff tasting, and she pretty much hated it on its own, but once she dipped a tempura prawn into it she was in love. Needless to say it is indeed a winning combination.
Next up was the blackened cod fillet for me, baked in a banana leaf with baby bok choi, shaved radish, toasted sesame and yuzu mayonnaise (£16.95), which was utterly divine with a crispy skin giving way to that juicy, fleshy meat.
My friend dove into her crab linguine (£15.95) before I could even utter the word Instagram. I rather feared for her wellbeing after her ludicrously liberal application of chilli flakes, but neither her nor the pasta and courgette linguine with Devon crab, smoked garlic, lemon and rocket seemed, to suffer for her excesses.
A bottle of South African Chardonnay (Haystack Chardonnay by Journey’s End from Stellenbosch; £36) was recommended as a good match for our dishes, and it certainly did the job – creamy but crisp and a good match for cod and the creaminess of the linguine.
The desserts are irresistible – the flourless cappuccino cake, crème brûlée and blackberry ice cream sundae are hard to say no to, but it was the apple tart fine (£7.95) and chocolate bombe with honeycomb centre and hot salted caramel sauce (£8.50) that found their way to our table. The apple tart arrived with a Calvados flambé flourish reminiscent of the original theatreland institution, and that first bite is beautifully boozy.
Three courses down but we weren’t quite ready to call time on the evening. And so we revisited the cocktail menu – one Golden Hind (Chivas 12-year-old whisky stirred with Manzanilla Sherry & Earl Grey Sake liqueur finished with peach bitters and cinchona bark smoke; £11.50) and a Modern Times (Diplomatico rum mixed with Expre Tosolini coffee liqueur, Orgeat syrup and freshly pulled espresso finished off with chocolate bitters, £9.75) later, and we were very well sated and frankly somewhat on our way to being sloshed.
In summary? Our trip to The Ivy Tower Bridge made for an absolutely fabulous Friday night feast.
1 Tower Bridge SE1 2AA; theivytowerbridge.com