Christopher Jackson enjoys some old classics at the classic restaurant – but spots no celebrities on this occasion
What’s in a name? Quite a lot, it turns out. The Ivy, for instance, carries implications – which have proved remarkably durable even as the brand has multiplied itself prolifically across the city – of being transported into a more theatrical and celebrity-rife world. One’s image before going is of Laurence Olivier bending politely to receive bon mots from Noel Coward, while Sir Tom Stoppard smokes at the bar, and Kate Moss passes out in the corner.
The name itself apparently comes from a remark by the now-not-necessarily-remembered actress Alice Delysia, who overheard the restaurant’s original owner Abel Giandolini apologise to a customer for the inconvenience caused by building works. Delysia, who seems to have been a woman of spirit and admirable camaraderie, interjected, ‘Don't worry – we will always come and see you: “We will cling together like the ivy”’.
And, of course, Delysia was right: celebrities do cling together, but as with leopard on safari, they’re never precisely where you expect them. The chances are that as soon as you hear a place is celebrity-haunted, the celebrities are haunting elsewhere. That’s not entirely true of the Ivy – a few weeks before I went to review the main restaurant downstairs, I was in the club upstairs. There I spotted Hugh Laurie, who was contentedly consuming some sort of pie with every appearance that his being there wasn’t an infrequent occurrence.
For starters, excited about all the celebrities I’d shortly be observing, I opted for champagne, and then awaited my companion, who it soon transpired had accidentally gone to the Soho branch. After twenty minutes she arrived, reciting difficulties with google maps, which probably occur to many Ivy visitors. But if people have trouble getting here, then they tend not to show it: at the Ivy, everyone seems to be having fun. And this fun was occurring in spite of the utter absence of Rob Brydon, who not only had failed to show up so far, but would fail to be in evidence throughout.
One always feels one should opt for something straightforward here: all the Ivy restaurants are an invitation to enjoy solid good food in a snazzy environment. This sense of good cheer is replicated also in the City branch where I have had lunch on a grey day in November, where everyone had such a look of hilarity and celebration, I sometimes suspect it was all a hallucination.
The Ivy, then, is doing a lot right. And the food’s good too. For starters I opted for the dressed Cornish crab on Melba toast with celeriac remoulade: celeriac is to me a much underrated vegetable and this was a creamy accompaniment to the satisfying crunch of the toast, and the detailed texture of the crab. My companion decided on the steak tartare and declared it a great success, while also noting the stressful absence of Noel Gallagher among the patrons.
Additionally observing that the streets outside had so far not dredged up Claudia Schiffer, or even Davina McCall, we began to think about our mains. Here we made a surprise sharing choice and opted for the Roast Devonshire chicken for two. This came with an entirely decadent foie gras stuffing and pommes sarladaise: it was delicious and consoled us to some extent when our neighbouring table was populated not with Kylie Jenner but with a business meeting which may have had something to do with insurance.
For dessert, I went – predominantly because I was visited by a sudden sense that it is a fun phrase to say – for knickerbocker glory. This came in a fabulously tall glass, all raspberry swirl and flavourful vanilla ice cream, topped with wafer. Wafer is also a fun word to say, and irresistibly calls to mind that magnificent Monty Python sketch where it’s the wafer – or waff-er in John Cleese’s maître d’s immoral pronunciation – which causes Terry Jones’ insides to burst.
This wafer, I feared, was in danger of having some of the same properties. We finished another glass of champagne, and scanned the room for even the sight of Damon Albarn, only to note a group of Americans who were full-throatedly lamenting the absence of Ringo Starr. Then we rose and crossed the entirely Steve Coogan-less part of the restaurant towards the exit where we didn’t bump into Les Dennis.
We extolled the food and service, and breathed champagne into the outdoors. As we left, we passed Stephen Fry, Jonathan Franzen, Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Vladimir Putin and Twiggy looking like they were about to have a superb time. How these celebrities cling together.