The Ivy’s latest spin-off is an informal take on its forebear, but the experience is uniquely impressive, writes Spear’s editor Alec Marsh
To the Ivy Soho Brasserie for a spring-like Saturday luncheon and the chance to experience the very latest addition to Ivy-impressario Richard Caring’s totemic gastronomic West End stronghold.
Opened just a handful of weeks ago, the Ivy’s brasserie concept takes the original’s elite shtick and gives it a makeover for the masses. But Carluccio’s this is not, my friends; despite being a spinoff (the ninth brasserie in fact) and sharing a name with its famous centenarian forebear, it zings with authenticity in its own right.
Indeed Caring apparently delayed the opening of the restaurant for several months in order to have the ceiling raised and the large central bar made more impressive. It was well worth the effort: the square bar is fronted by oblong mirrors above and up-lit below and looks like a good place to be, and staff toil behind in white jackets and black bow ties. The effect nudges Mad Men, but has a twist of Art Deco – delivered by many of the original Ivy flourishes dotted about. It all contributes to a look best summed up as twentieth century saloon bar chic (think velvet covered seats and tightly arranged chrome-framed art prints), augmented with fin de siècle roots that together strike a thoroughly contemporary note.
Talking of which, in the background, a DJ beyond the bar is setting a note of a different sort as we peruse the menu and enjoy a glass of the house champagne. The base and beat melts away into the voices of the fellow diners, of which there is no shortage, to create a mellow white noise. Looking around it’s a mixed crowd: the vibe is more loafer than beard oil, but hipsters are more than welcome.
To start I dive into the Crispy Duck Salad, the brasserie’s version of the grown-up Ivy’s classic dish. I’ve not eaten it on West Street, but the Broadwick Street duck zings. Served with toasted cashews, watermelon and beansprouts – all arranged like a pagoda on a kaleidoscopic floor plan of translucent black radish – it’s a calm temple of flavour in an otherwise crowded world, and you get the soft buttery bells as you hit the watermelon and it punches through the duck. Mrs Marsh, meanwhile, relished the Mozzarella di Bufala and clementine, which was an elegant pesto-and – purple baby basil infused mass served with pine nuts and sweet clementine. Delicious. And so was the silky Soave Classico that we had with it.
Next for me was the Cote de Boeuf, which is a twelve ounce culinary statement served on the bone. At medium rare the beef was positively fluffy and banging with flavour; the taste buds really are rewarded by being so close to the bone. The peppercorn sauce stood its ground and my wife’s side of green al dente beans and roasted almonds was the perfect accompaniment. This was dispatched with a glass of Argentine Malbec, which required an encore before long. Mrs M had the brasserie’s take on the original Ivy’s famed shepherd’s pie, which evinced luxurious sweetness and came topped with tiny sparse sprigs of rosemary (like the crown of Wayne Rooney’s head after the hair transplant surgery). She actually gasped with pleasure as she tasted it.
For pudding I had the Lemon meringue Alaska, which resembled a partially toasted, perfect Mr Whippy ice cream, that once broken into, delivered sweet, cold impact lifted yet further by a scattering of baby basil leaves. Mrs M had the Chocolate Bombe, which was so sweet it made my teeth tremble but was silky smooth and chocolaty beyond the ambitions of an Aztec glutton.
So, in short, despite being part of a ‘chain’, the Ivy Soho Brasserie is well worth a visit. As well as being a little lighter on the wallet and less formal than the original, just a stone’s throw away, it’s also got an atmosphere of its very own on busy Broadwick Street.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear’s Magazine