Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Ivy Part II: the Art of Dining

"To dine is to linger." - C. LeSage, 2006

A veteran of the advertising industry imparted this wisdom to a group of upstarts before a celebratory Claridges dinner. He was old New York money (like a descendant from the Age of Innocence), vulgar and elegant at the same time, often referring to David – David Ogilvy, the original advertising Mad Man. And with that, the upstarts did not just eat, they dined. Lingering over the foie gras, bavarois and petit fours, retiring to the Macanudo Fumoir for a puff of a Monte Cristo in the days where you weren’t spanked for smoking indoors.

The meal was over too soon, we rightly lost our upstart sensibility through the years, but those words stayed with us.

As soon as we walk into The Ivy, we know we will be dining because everything about that restaurant wants you to linger. The service, the theatre, the carpet for towering heels. The food is almost secondary to the feel of the place.

We linger over our aperitifs at the crescent wood-panelled bar, before we are shown to our intimate table. (Apologies for the badly lit photos. As cameras and mobiles are banned, sleuthlike, I capture what I can.)

The starters come. A grilled squid, chorizo and parsley salad - juicy and clean - layered with mellow, caramelised strands of fennel. A palate-cleanser for me.

It’s a steak tartare for him. He chooses to have it mediumly spiced. A thick rounded diamond of capered and cornichoned vermillion meat, at once refreshing and moreish. I keep nicking bits of tartare. It’s my favourite dish of the night.

Soak in the chatter, the smiles, the intimacy of the place. At J. Sheekey you feel part of the party. At The Ivy, you are part of the club. Linger linger.

Out comes a Middle White pork belly with buttery zeppelins of Goldrush apples and cider sauce. The milk-white belly is delicately delicious on a bed of pommes purée with just the merest layer of golden crackling on top. The cider sauce is too much like toffee apples, sickly-buttery and sweet.

He is tucking into shepherd’s pie. Do not be fooled - it looks small, but it’s actually huge. Bloody good shepherd’s pie and minced meat a-go-go after the tartare.

To accompany is, what we can only call battered courgettes (or parmesan-fried according to the menu) which is to be avoided at all costs, and cauliflower cheese, which is divine.

Then, to round things off spectacularly, the extravagant Baked Alaska. For your £15.50, you get a huge dessert for two and a performance as kirsch is wildly set alight, poured all over the baroquely sculpted soft meringue which hugs ice cream and sponge, before Griotte cherries are spooned over.

I’m mildly embarrassed. It must be the British in me.

It is delicious. I’d like the meringue to be a little more caramelised, but I forgive them because the serving of the Baked Alaska was done with such good humour.

After the dessert and the coffees we linger some more. Mostly because we’re so full that we can’t do anything but linger.

We have dined well tonight.

The Ivy, 1-5 West Street, WC2H 9NQ
020 7836 4751

The Ivy on Urbanspoon


Neil Davey said...

Really nice post. So much is written about whether food is the best this or the best that, that it's very easy to overlook the importance of the experience as a whole. There's an endless race to be the first to eat this or try that or visit there, which takes away so much of the pleasure. It's time to stop the competition and instead revel in the pleasures of dining. Happy lingering.

Helena Lee said...

Ah Neil thanks for your lovely comment.
You're quite right. It's also awful when people feel they OUGHT to eat somewhere they become such a restaurant bore!

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