The Ivy, spreading its tendrils to Marylebone.
I’ve got a table for the new Ivy Café in Marylebone tomorrow, says Mr A, I know it’s short notice, but I thought you might like to try it. Short notice? Never a problem. As he said it, the vague memory of an Ivy opening in Marylebone drifted into my conscious mind. It had slipped off my new openings radar, probably because I wasn’t altogether desperate to try it and really, I can’t be expected to remember everything, you know. I have a day job.
The Ivy, once firmly rooted to its Covent Garden base has been busy spreading its tendrils. First Covent Garden, not entirely well-received, then Chelsea, which, it appears, can do no wrong and now the latest child-of-Ivy, on the site of the former Union Cafe, on Marylebone Lane.
You wouldn’t recognise it as the same restaurant; an entirely different world greets you, a world more akin to the Mittel-European cafe style found up the road at my second home, Fischers, but without quite the same devotion to the theme. It’s sort of French 1930s brasserie in feel, designed by the current king of restaurant design, the Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, responsible for a number of restaurants in the Caring group, including the new behemoth, Sexy Fish of which more in the near future.
It’s all marble floor tiles in varying shades of brown, antique leather banquettes, soft lighting and comfortable seats. There is a lovely curved bar with comfy leather seats which would be great for the solo diner, or for those of you who like to sit at bars. No expense has been spared anywhere visible to the naked eye. The café is open all day and half the tables will be set aside for walk-ins, which is a sensible compromise for those of us who don’t do queue.
They don’t take your coat, though and I suspect that when we get to winter proper, the lack of cloakroom facilities might be less than ideal, especially given the lack of space between some of the smaller tables. Tip: if there are two of you ask for a table at the end of a run, or in the group of three, back left.
I am struck by the prices, but not for the usual reason in this neck of the restaurant woods. I get sticker shock but mainly because the prices appear to be so reasonable. The Ivy Café Royale, a mix of hibiscus gin, sloe infusion, rose-water and Crémant is a mere £6.75. I didn’t try it, so it might be that you get a thimbleful, but the house wines start at £19.50 and that isn’t bad at all, considering where we are. But the cheap comes at a slight deprivation cost as there are hidden extras if you take your eye off the ball and I note that should you require a sauce with your steak, you will be charged £2.75 extra. Should you wish to eat some bread, you will be paying £3.95 for the privilege. But it is possible to eat very reasonably, with a little judicious ordering.
And then the starters, ranging from £5.50 for a soup to £11.50, including such brasserie classics as prawn cocktail, smoked salmon and chicken liver parfait. I had the slightly more racy crispy prawns and wasabi, still unable to work out whether I love or hate the version at Duck and Rice. It’s a much more tame affair here, the prawns deep-fried in a sesame-flecked breadcrumb crust, with a dipping sauce of rather gentle wasabi mayo. I wasn’t aware of the advertised miso sauce. There were six reasonable sized prawns for £8.75.
Mr A had the crispy duck salad which was pronounced delicious and our other companion, the lovely Ms A, chose zucchini fritti as starter, a portion so enormous that she was unable to finish it, even with my help. Of course, we had also ordered it for the table with the mains, just in case we needed. “For the table” is my preferred formulation for that situation where you want to try another dish but can’t actually be seen to order two main courses yourself. I have a client who loves his food almost as much as I do; his name for it is a floater. Not the word I’d have chosen were I asked to choose and not an image I want in my head when ordering extra food, but I am now unable to call it anything else.
I followed with the whole lemon sole, at £17.50, served “simply grilled” (it can be prepared with beurre noisette, capers lemon and parsley if you so desire) and presented with simple sprigs of watercress. It was a firm, meaty whole fish, none of your filleted nonsense: I want to be stripping the shreds of fish from the bones, all those little sweet bits between the small bones on the outer edge of the fish. I also managed to force myself to eat some of the rather excellent thick cut chips. I spotted truffle and parmesan chips on the menu. They require further investigation.
Mr A hit the jackpot with The Ivy Café Shepherd’s Pie, served in a type of metal dish I was struggling to name. The Mavens of Twitter inform me that this is a copper gratin dish and if that description is good enough for Diana Henry, who am I to argue? A plateful of comfort at £13.50, I do not know Mr A well enough to insert my fork into his plate, but it looked lush.
Dessert was entirely unnecessary but Ms A played the game by ordering what was a hefty slab of warm flourless chocolate cake, which, again, I managed to force myself to try. Rich and gooey, you’d struggle on your own and not the use of the word “you”. Salted caramel chocolate truffles of the Artisan du Chocolat kind are available; six for £3.50. I do like a restaurant which understands the need for just a smidgeon of chocolate, at the very end.
Judgement: This will be a very welcome addition to the local Marylebone scene; another grown-up restaurant offering reasonably priced food, the sort of place where you are likely to encounter multi-generational tables at the weekend – your grandma would definitely approve. It’s business-appropriate, not too ladies-who-lunch and with a menu which will definitely appeal to the property boys and the medicos who dominate the local area.
Scores on the doors
Value for money 9/10
Best for: comfort-seekers
Worst for: clean eaters,whatever that means
Went online to book Union cafe the other day – now I know why it was closed! Had some happy times there (including my birthday, weekend during the Olympics – we were the only diners!) , but this sounds like a good substitute