Two Ivys in one week. Kind of obsessive. But there were birthdays involved and the fact that the Ivy restaurant now has three West Country brasseries in its chain, in Bristol, Exeter and Bath. That in itself seemed worth celebrating.
The thing about chains, even the higher end ones like Jamie Oliver’s, is that once they become ubiquitious on every high street, in every airport, they stop feeling like a treat. From where we were sitting, Aperol spritz in hand, the Ivy Brasserie definitely delivers the treat.
Partly it’s the architecture and the décor – high ceilings, wood panelling, chandeliers, marble tiled floor, mammoth flower arrangements, circular bars with leather topped bar stools. It’s the black and white clad waiters, rushing back and forth with trays of champagne, who couldn’t be more charming if they tried, it’s the fact that both restaurants whether you opt for breakfast, lunch or dinner, are packed full of other diners all clearly relishing the experience. And, of course it’s the food, which is wonderful and not chain-y at all.
The Ivy Clifton Brasserie is based in an old bank which is perfectly suited to that feeling of old school grandeur we expect from the Ivy. The menu is vast and covers all bases from morning til night with everything in between (tables are kept back for walk ups, so you can take your chances on the day). Arriving for a late lunch we found several tables already indulging in the afternoon tea – it looked great, that whole ceremonial thing of tiered cake platters and dainty cups. With five rather demanding individuals when it comes to food, we were able to put the menu through its paces. There’s always a burger ordered – this one statuesque, chargrilled and served with Bloody Mary ketchup. My daughter opted for a truffled chicken sandwich and fries which was delicious (she nailed it). I had a seared tuna salad (totally pink and melting), while my husband went for steak, egg and chips, in a cliché of his and hers-ness. And the 10 year old, who has bitterly resented the kids menu since he was three years old, had roast half chicken with gremolata and rosemary jus. When this proved too much (though he’s not to be told), our lovely waiter packaged up the remains for the puppy who was waiting it out in the car.
The menu, it’s true, is all things to all people but that’s just a plus as far as I can see. We’ll definitely be back for the Waffle menu on a Saturday – choose the flavour of your waffle (cinnamon, vanilla, lemon) add a type of ice cream, your choice of fruit, a topping (crushed meringue, honeycomb, popping candy) and sauce (chocolate, salted caramel, maple syrup etc), all for £8.95.
At the brasserie in Bath (pictured above), a girls lunch this time, we all opted for fish – roasted salmon, the seared tuna again (nothing if not obsessive) and the blackened cod, which came wrapped in a banana leaf. A hark back to Nobu days in the early Noughties and just as incredible.
Another lovely waitress (it feels 100% genuine but the Ivy staff training must be immense), who delivered a surprise chocolate bomb to the table on the grounds that one of us was in a skull motif scarf and it was almost Halloween.
So yes, we were sold. 100% sold. The Ivy brasseries in Bristol, Bath and Exeter have the shape of birthdays, girls lunches, pre-shopping breakfasts, post-shopping tea, pre-cinema or theatre supper - you name it, we'll be there.