Alexander Larman visits one of London’s most iconic restaurants to see if the original is the still the best…
The Ivy is probably the most famous restaurant in London. Countless generations of celebrities have passed by The Mousetrap’s doors en route to the entrance, where the doorman, much friendlier in aspect than his previous incarnations, either welcomes you in or gravely tells you: ‘I’m afraid that we’re fully booked tonight, sir.’
The Ivy now celebrates its centenary, and the legion of offshoots that have recently opened might suggest that the brand of the original has been in some sense diluted. This is unfair, and untrue. If one expects haute cuisine, one will be disappointed.
If one expects the very finest of modern British brasserie cooking, served with the odd adventurous twist, one would visit an institution that has as much to offer in its hundredth year as it ever has.
The food remains as comforting as it ever has been. Some of the dishes have an Asian accent, which we don’t sample, but burrata and Italian tomatoes is just as welcome as a starter of squid and chorizo. A chicken curry dish is exemplary, if slightly unexpected.
But a perfect steak on the bone shows that this old dear is more than capable of shaking her rump, or flank, or any other delicious cut, and keeping up with the new guard.
I am reminded that the wine list is one of the best in London, and we saw the evidence of that, a fine Bourgogne being a wonderful accompaniment to the starters. But, ultimately, the Moroccan wine that was suggested with the steak and curry was something altogether more interesting than the usual drab Burgundy or Bordeaux relic.
And the espresso Martinis that appeared, as if by magic, to accompany the signature dessert – a chocolate mousse called ‘window on the Ivy’ – were perfectly judged.
The original Ivy is still a special treat. When you step into its glorious environs, you are not simply walking into a restaurant, you are taking part in history. And for that, if nothing else, a visit here remains one of the essential parts of London life.
Dinner for two around £150
What to eat…
The special centenary dessert, window on the Ivy, is delicious and utterly unmissable
What to know…
The bar, in the centre of the restaurant, offers the best view of the milieu, and also offers the best chance to chat to the fabulous staff
5 West Street WC2H 9NQ: 020 7836 4751; the-ivy.co.uk