Following a successful launch on the King’s Road, can The Ivy magic win over Kensington?
So The Ivy train rumbles on, calling at the site of the interesting-but-not-entirely-successful Pavilion for its first venture into Kensington (its other location on the King’s Road, the Ivy Chelsea Garden, has been a notable hit ever since it opened last summer). It is a subtly different beast, styling itself a brasserie rather than a restaurant, although the distinction will be lost on most; the menu is slightly more casual and there is a range of exclusive cocktails, of which the light, delicious Ivy Kensington royale – a mixture of raspberries, gin and champagne – is the one to try.
We visit a few days into the opening and, although it’s 95% there, the odd crack was still showing. A request for a glass of Riesling and a glass of Gavi – both excellent – is met with confusion, then an attempt to give us a bottle of Riesling, then a single glass appearing. Given the time and expense that The Ivy group invests in staff training, this minor lapse surprised, but no doubt it will soon be rectified. And, apart from this, the staff – friendly, professional and adept – were top-notch.
Anyone who has been to an Ivy restaurant before will know what to expect from the food, which alternated between brilliant (scallops with a parmesan biscuit to start; beautifully tender rib-eye steak; the restaurant’s signature chocolate bombe) and faintly disappointing. My companion’s lamb shoulder with polenta tasted bland and in need of more of a kick, and a side dish of tomato and basil salad came heavy on the tomato and very light on the basil, meaning that it ended up being scarcely more impressive than the sort of thing you’d find in vastly inferior restaurants.
Still, nobody comes to The Ivy for Michelin-starred cuisine, but for the top-notch wine list (we were beguiled by a fine Mendoza Malbec), the atmosphere and the general va-va-voom of the place. On a Thursday lunchtime it was already packed with a cross-section of Kensington life, with the splendid pair of old chaps on the right-hand-side (‘Just one more glass of the house white, my good man’) matched with everyone from ladies-who-lunch and young families to civilised couples of both sexes. Doubts about the quality of the food aside (stick to the shepherd’s pie if in doubt), this shows, yet again, that Kensington can still surprise when it comes to new restaurants, even if they do stem from this illustrious pedigree.
WORDS Alexander Larman
Kensington Pavilion, 96 Kensington High Street W8 4SG; 020 3301 0500; theivykensingtonbrasserie.com