Review: Dining well in BN1’s fabulous Ivy

Ivy shepherd's pie SUS-180806-104902001
Ivy shepherd's pie SUS-180806-104902001

If it was good enough for Olivier, Dietrich and Coward, it has to be worth heading over to Ship Street for the latest incarnation of The Ivy.

Whilst not exactly stepping in the footsteps of the aforementioned trio, the prospect of eating at The Ivy in the Lanes is still unquestionably exciting.

Pavilion Passion cocktail SUS-180806-104913001

Pavilion Passion cocktail SUS-180806-104913001

In recent years the legendary London haunt has expanded beyond the original site, initially just taking on new venues in and around the capital, before spreading the brand into other cities, including Edinburgh, Dublin and now BN1.

And BN1 it most certainly is. Bang in the middle of the action in the not insubstantial, Grade II-listed building which once housed the city’s largest post office.

As Brighton and Hove Independent readers will testify, after an exclusive first glimpse last month, the interior isn’t too shabby either.

Despite rolling out a total of 31 Ivy cafes, grills and brasseries, it’s all looking rather good, with a consistently stylish approach but without the whiff of a chain joint, albeit a higher-end chain joint.

The Ivy in the Lanes, Brighton (Photograph: Paul Winch-Furness) SUS-180425-105207001

The Ivy in the Lanes, Brighton (Photograph: Paul Winch-Furness) SUS-180425-105207001

It all looks fairly fabulous in Brighton, the famed stained glass windows look in on walls decked in bright, airy artwork, and a beautifully-lit bar, staffed by some gorgeously-attired staff who look smarter than most people on their wedding day.

The lightness of the decor and furnishings is matched by the general ambience. And a great deal of diners and drinkers will be surprised at the unstuffy nature of the place. Sure there are an awful lot of immaculately dressed staff. General manager Barry Watson has said they have hired an astonishing 150 full-time workers.

But they provide peerless and unfussy service and don’t make you feel uncomfortable, except perhaps if you stare too long at the bar staff and find yourself wishing you also had a swish white dinner jacket.

It’s also important to note that it’s not just a case of style over substance, the food and drink on offer (‘modern British’ don’t you know?), is more than a match for the grandeur of the Art Deco-style fixtures and fittings.

The cocktails are unsurprisingly excellent. I demurely sipped a fragrant flute of The Ivy Royale, a signature Kir Royale with Briottet rose liqueur, Sipsmith sloe gin and hibiscus, topped with Champagne, while my sweet-toothed chum cooed over her Pavilion Passion – fresh passion fruit shaken with vanilla-infused Wyborowa vodka, finished with flaming overproof rum in a passion fruit shell.

The tuna carpaccio was a delicately-flavoured starter. A Japanese-style ponzu dressing enlived the thin super-fresh slices of Yellowfin tuna, with an extra layer of taste from pearls of miso mayo.

My dining partner opted for asparagus with truffle hollandaise which seemed like a dull choice but the silky sauce was perfect in every way and bursting with flavour.

There was always only going to be one option for main course – The Ivy’s near-heavenly shepherd’s pie.

It’s one of their most famous dishes and is just like your mum’s (if your mum was a chef at a high-end restaurant, used high-end ingredients and could be bothered to slow-braise lamb shoulder).

It was a reassuringly hearty dish with flavours the size of Wales, in a monstrously meaty and tangy sauce (the Ivy cookbook suggests it’s a melange of red wine, veal stock and Worcester sauce). I loved it and was left almost insensible.

For those with slightly less Bunteresque appetites, like my veggie friend, the chargrilled halloumi with Padrón peppers red pepper sauce, San Marzano tomatoes, olives and a chilli and mint sauce, seemed like a bright and well-balanced plate of food. Although she ordered an extra portion of fat chips drizzled in truffle oil, because obviously she hadn’t got her fill of fungus from the previous course.

A warm flourless chocolate cappuccino cake with milk mousse and coffee sauce was the pick of the puddings and a suitably rich end to an indulgent evening in rarefied stylish surroundings.

The Ivy in the Lanes is at 51 Ship Street, Brighton. For bookings, call 01273 082200 or visit: theivybrighton.com