The Ivy is a Playmobil-style faux-medieval restaurant in a triangular building opposite The Mousetrap; of the two, The Ivy is more ancient and threatening. It has mullioned windows, a photogenic lamp post and a parking space for paparazzi to shoot people who want to be shot, as in early Martin Amis novels. It has been refurbished for its 100th birthday, in the manner of an ancient dowager empress seeking new fingers. Of the ‘celebrities’ or ‘notables’ or ‘people who are better than you’ who used to dine here I cannot speak; but apparently it was a live-action re-enactment of a Nigel Dempster diary. Christopher Biggins blah. The pig from Babe blah.
It is, you must understand, a ‘legendary restaurant’. It is, with its new fingers, currently engaged in some made-up PR-created ‘war’ with the Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, fought on the papery battlefields of the style pages. My spoons! My money! My quiche! I loathe the brittle spells of PR witchery. I do not wish to be told that I — or my readers — am not good enough to eat iconic shepherd’s pie in this dismal corner of the universe and should go somewhere less fashionable and more dismal still. Lies, all lies. Perhaps I should write a Network-themed restaurant review, and tell you instead — stop reading this review! Stop it! Stick your head in a KFC Bargain Bucket instead, for there is as much truth — and, yes, joy — there! Or maybe I should just say that I do not trust tales of ‘legendary restaurants’ or ‘legendary parties’, or anything that was, socially speaking, ‘legendary’. ‘Legendary’, here, is usually a synonym for ‘many alcoholics’. Why were they in the Antibes, or the Ivy, or even in the pages of The Spectator’s gossip column, in the first place? Because, reader, theyhad nothing better to do.
But that was then. Now, under the swooping, golden cloak of Richard Caring, the ‘cool’ people, the ‘better’ people, the ‘people who are more attractive than you’, have gone upstairs to the Ivy Club for private members, which has an entrance ‘discreetly concealed within a flower shop’. I will ignore the fact that nothing can be discreet if it is published on a website.
Elsewhere, the brand is getting fat, buying slacks and moving to Esher to play golf and hate itself. There is a new Ivy nearby and an excellent Ivy Garden in Chelsea, which I liked, because it had sky. Sky, I predict, will soon become a luxury product. Hermès will sell it in boxes. Editorials will be written praising it.
But of the original Ivy, the Mummy Ivy, the greenest Ivy of them all — what now? Well, her children have eaten her. It is true that last week it managed to entice the weird triumvirate of Salman Rushdie, Anton du Beke and Goldie Hawn. Otherwise the magic has fallen off a cliff.
It’s pretty, it is true, with its wild mash of Playmobil and Art Deco, and the bar has moved to the centre to become ‘a dining bar’— this is apparently notable — and Damien Hirst has painted some dots on a canvas on the wall. But the stillness of the day resents it. It is the dog-end of lunch, businessmen and bored rich women fingering their hair.
The food is merely OK. Cornish lamb rump is sweet enough; the Ivy Burger is adequate; the puddings excellent. But the Ivy closed its doors to real people for so many years; now it opens, it can only disappoint. I ask: can I see the Ivy Club that is through the flower shop? I surely cannot, he says, with a too-brief smile; some other time.
The Ivy, 1–5 West Street, London WC2H 9NQ, tel: 020 7836 4751.