Good God, and you thought I got worked up about the interior design of restaurants (and one dear friend even told me to cool my sexy tile obsession in reviews). But the social feeds have been pumping out screaming admiration for the arrival of Brighton's The Ivy branch.
Sat here, I have to say it's rather hard to compose myself, you don't know where to look. My heart is beating and I want to drink it in, it's an interior triumph of botanical, gilded, colourfulness in all of its elegant campness. Like the couture version of Margarita Pracatan has exploded on the walls, but in a good way. And if there was ever a toilet to be celebrated, then this is it. I can't vouch for the gents, but the ladies powder room, containing eight camera happy lifestyle bloggers at any given time, is something else. A circular, blush banquette sofa sits in the middle with gleaming tiles, oriental gold leaf walls, small pouffes in jewel colours on which to sit and touch up make up. Each WC has a pink marble sink for company. There is nothing like it in Brighton, nothing.
What? Sorry, you want to hear about the food? Right then...
The Ivy is a handy all-day catch all, starting with breakfast and brunch which I will most certainly be returning for, but what's a review of fancy scrambled eggs going to tell you?
Afternoon tea here would also be a perfect treat, a gorgeous event to do with a gaggle of girlfriends or your dear mum. And at almost half the price of The Grand too. Did I mention the gold, geometric chandeliers?
But dinner is where you can really try out the cooking, and the surprisingly reasonable prices continue here as well.
The menu itself is vast, with a crowd pleasing mash up of dishes; simple, classics like prawn cocktails, duck liver parfait, smoked salmon, fish & chips, steaks and burgers to influences from India, Italy and Japan.
We started with truffle arancini and spiced olives to settle in with our cocktails (which were excellent and with Matt Ottley, former bar manager of The Salt Room taking control, they would be). Served in a silver bowl and lovingly wrapped in a cloth napkin, the arancini were nicely made, their bijoux size taking a little of the natural softness and squidginess away from them, and as ever, I could have done with a bigger hit of truffle, but they were perfect to nibble on whilst navigating the vast menu.
A good start was the delicate tuna carpaccio; topped with tomato, watermelon and an Eastern twist with ponzu dressing and sesame. My crispy duck salad had plenty of textural interest, toasted cashews, watermelon and paper thin mouli slices. I would say that reheated fatty meats like this suffer in flavour, particularly duck which can take on a pungency, as this did.
For mains, I chose a blackened cod; sticky, sweet and succulent, sat on top of the banana leaf it was baked in and I enjoyed a lot. It was simply served with half of a lightly blanched pal choi and yuzu mayo. I probably should have taken up the offer of a side of something starchy for a more filling dinner but that was my fault entirely for not heeding the waitress' advice.
The special was a juicy swordfish steak, cooked with the merest kiss of heat served with chimichurri and romanesco sauces, and a substantial fregola salad. This was tailored to a dairy free diet and I would say staff swerved that issue effortlessly, checking with the kitchen and being particularly attentive in suggesting options.
Desserts again generally favour the classics; Crème brûlée, apple tart, panna cotta. Although the flourless cappuccino cake or the cheese are more my bag to end a meal, I took the offer to try the Ivy statement dessert - a chocolate bombe. A perfect spherical chocolate shell arrived which was filled with vanilla ice-cream and honeycomb onto which hot salted caramel sauce is poured. (Expect around 600 Instagram boomerangs of this to appear on your feeds by next month.) For me too rich, too sweet, too much and I think there was popping candy thrown in for good measure, but hey, I'm in the minority with my lack of enthusiasm for chocolate desserts. Order it, you'll love it I'm sure.
The bottle of chablis was elegant and light, and a good choice for the food but the cocktail menu was too good to leave without one for the road. Laughing in the face of health and safety, my Pavilion Passion contained a passion fruit shell filled with overproof rum (that's means bastard strong to you and me) which was set fire to at the table with some theatre. No velveteen sofas were harmed, thankfully.
Yes, The Ivy is a chain, and yes in Brighton we get sniffy about it all but the venue is the enormous site the old post Office in Ship Street used to be. The rates would have been hair raising and prohibitive to our darling indies. Half the people will be quick to judge this as a vacuous tart of a restaurant whilst the other half will be happy enough taking selfies in the loo (guilteee) and fawning over the decor. And it could have been a TGI Fridays for goodness sake. Ain't no gold leaf and pink pouffes to be had with that brand people.
Is it the best food in town? No, not at all. The creative quality of the city's food will continue to rise in our outstanding independents. But there's nothing wrong with the paired back simplicity of it all here and you will eat well. Would I come back? Absolutely. For brunch, tea, lunch, dinner and cocktails; hell, maybe all in one day. This is very much the experience end of the dining scale where great drinks, smart staff and beautiful surroundings make the visit as much as you grilled half lobster or French dip steak sarnie. Diversity is what makes this place Brighton. The Ivy has its place and feels very much at home here. Darling, it's fabulous.
The Ivy in the Lanes
51a Ship Street,
I dined as a guest of The Ivy. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.