After hundreds of years (ish) of The Ivy being, well, just The Ivy, it’s gone and spread its brand all over the shop these last 18 months. First came The Ivy Chelsea Garden, then The Ivy Market Grill in Covent Garden ‒ and now it’s in gorgeous ol’ Marylebone. (And there’s one on its way in Kensington, of which we’ll be the judge.) But is an Ivy Café a step too far?
Simon Gage: Can you eat at an Ivy diffusion without always comparing it to the original? That’s surely the main question.
Stephen Unwin: Maybe it’s like entry-level Ivy, to get you ready for the real thing. The branding works, anyway – I could see it way down the road. And the napkins are the same, aren’t they?
SG: Duck Curry? Do they have that at The Ivy? How similar is this menu?
SU: It’s essentially the same. Comfort food, nothing weird. Unless duck curry’s weird.
“Did you notice they’re already turning people away? They said to that lady to come back in three weeks, which is basically next year”
SG: I’m going to get the zucchini fritti as a starter because it’s my favourite thing in the whole wild world. And I’m not sharing.
SU: I’m between crunchy prawns and smoked salmon and crab.
SG: That’s a very undersea theme you’re working there.
Karen Krizanovich: Did you notice they’re already turning people away? They said to that lady to come back in three weeks, which is basically next year.
SG: What do we think of the look? It’s a bit like a pub from the 1930s. You almost expect Ruth Ellis to come in and shoot someone. Nice though.
KK: Where else would you eat in Marylebone? Fischer’s, I suppose.
SU: Providores. Or Madonna’s house.
KK: I’m thinking of getting ham hock ’cause I’ve never had that.
KK: Tasty but short-lived.
“It was a massive horse and first it tried rearing up to throw me off, then it got down and started to roll on its back!”
SU: I’m getting crunchy prawns and the chargrilled Banham chicken because you can always judge a restaurant on its prawns and its chicken.
KK: Same with their house red – but I need this champagne first, because I went riding yesterday and it wasn’t good. It was a massive horse and first it tried rearing up to throw me off, then it got down and started to roll on its back! I was very much over-horsed. My boyfriend said, “Explain again why you are doing this?”
SG: It’s because anything that puts your life at risk is fun. It’s why we drink.
[The lights are dimmed, quite considerably]
K: Oh, glaucoma hour has arrived. Everyone’s scrabbling for their iPhone so they can read the menu.
SG: Let’s review the other diners.
SU: At least the people seem real.
KK: Is that good? I like that there’s someone over there on his own and he doesn’t look out of place. It’s quite old and homely isn’t it. The clientele. And the place. And I like that you can eat up at the bar.
SG: That little basket with a napkin filled with skinny zucchini fritti and a lemon in pyjamas is my idea of a good time. But then you could deep-fry contact lenses and it would be delicious.
KK: Stephen, yours is amazing. Is that chilli wasabi? It’s amazing!
SU: Yes, really lovely.
KK: This white onion soup is really comforting. If you’d been on a big horse that tried to roll on you, this is the stuff you’d want. It’s so velvety and warm.
SG: I’m not sure about your glass plate. What next? Square plates? But that deco bottle of tap water is beautiful.
KK: I like the buzz in here. The ambient noise is just right.
SU: That’s a nice looking bit of salmon, Karen. I have chips to spare, by the way.
SG: Are they cooked in dead animals or can I try?
SU: No, they taste of olive oil. They’re fine.
KK: What are those people over there having? It looks like the prawn cocktail from Beetlejuice.
SG: What is that hiding under your salmon, Karen?
KK: It’s apple. Simple, refreshing, lovely. But the fish is a little fishy for me.
SU: And the chicken is ever so slightly cold. It’s OK but not extraordinary.
“It is beautiful, but don’t you feel like London is slipping back into the past with all these retro places? When was the last time you stepped into a room that dazzled you with how modern it was?”
SG: Mine feels a bit like leftovers: tomato pasta with breadcrumbs. It must be traditional from somewhere but it feels a bit of a strange combination. And quite dry. The breadcrumbs have eaten all my sauce.
SU: It looks like something an Italian child might make in domestic science class.
SG: I should have studied the menu a bit better. There was a cold butternut squash salad, which might have been good – very healthy, anyway. But there’s something a bit slimy about cold butternut squash…
KK: What do we think of the house red?
SG: I like it. Juicy.
SU: I haven’t tasted it yet. I’m too busy not enjoying this chicken.
KK: May I try it? Oh, it’s chicken that tastes like a sausage. Like a transgender chicken. A bit smoky.
SG: There’s an almost margarine-y taste to this. It tastes like poverty.
SU: It looks like something I throw together when I’m too depressed to leave the house. The Ivy is supposed to be about plain food done really well. Maybe we just chose badly. We should have ordered the steak and shepherd’s pie.
SG: But your chips are absolutely delicious. You can almost hear them crunch and then it’s like mash inside. Totally gorgeous.
KK: Maybe we should have just had champagne, starters and chips. But it’s definitely somewhere to bring your parents. They’d love it. Mind you, it is getting a bit loud and it’s quite dark. But if they can’t see or hear anyway, what’s the difference? Apparently, it’s 84 covers then eight at the bar and six outside. But it doesn’t feel that big, which is clever. I’m not doing dessert by the way, but you go ahead.
SG: Shall we have the treacle tart and share, Stephen? I saw it go by and it looked huge. Big enough for all of us.
SU: Ice cream and cream! I love that. It’s good, actually.
KK: It should be so sweet it takes the coating off your teeth, a treacle tart. I have a Scottish boyfriend. I know these things.
SG: It’s not too sweet but I like that.
SU: Your mate Sharleen [Spiteri] is over there.
[SG goes over for a chat]
SG: They love their food. And they did have steaks.
SU: See, that’s why celebrities are better than us.
KK: I like the lighting in here, actually. I don’t feel too old. It’s just this side of coming out from under a rock ‒ that’s a good thing.
SG: It is beautiful, but don’t you feel like London is slipping back into the past with all these retro places? When was the last time you stepped into a room that dazzled you with how modern it was?
SU: It’s because of that recession we had. This style makes us feel safe. But aren’t we all rich again now?
SG: I don’t want to sit on mummy’s lap all the time. I want something exciting.
SU: Depends on who the mummy is.
KK: Nice starters, drinks and ambiance but, like a railway suicide, it fell on the mains. I’d love to come back and try cow.
SG: I love the room and I’m always more about the room than the food. But the zucchini fritti is among the best I have ever had, and I am something of an expert. If The Ivy is turning into a chain, I actually don’t mind in the least.
SU: Apart from the fact that I wish my bottom was on a banquette and that my chicken had been as good as my favourite chicken at Dean Street Townhouse and my treacle tart had been more treacle-y and tarty, I like it here. And it’s handy for Selfridges. And Madonna’s house.
The Ivy Café, 96 Marylebone Lane, London W1U 2QA
020 3301 0400; theivycafemarylebone.com