A colleague recently took me to a new Asian restaurant in Shoreditch. As we were shown to a table my face fell. One of us would be looking out at the room and the other would get to look at a concrete wall.
Kindly, my courteous companion took the duff seat, but neither of us will be returning. Even fine-dining restaurants fall into this trap, yet my exploration of the rapidly expanding Ivy Collection of restaurants shows that the graceful art of people-watching while dining is alive and well.
We all know of The Ivy, the fine-dining celebrity haunt in theatreland. In the run-up to its centenary celebrations this year, the owner, Richard Caring, started to realise a long-held plan to launch a new business with The Ivy branding; and they’ve been popping up all over London and beyond.
I took myself on a “walking safari” of the central London Ivys: The Ivy City Garden, EC2, which opened on 7 June, The Ivy Market Grill at the Covent Garden piazza (the first of the Collection in 2014), The Ivy Soho Brasserie (February 2017), The Ivy Café Marylebone (November 2015) and to the “original Ivy” or Ivy West Street, which is not part of the new family it spawned.
The joy of a pub crawl is that you imbibe, walk, imbibe, repeat, and your surroundings keep changing. Such was my Ivy crawl, only sampling “similar but different” menus and each characterfully unique. Motifs the restaurants share are the Art Deco-style pendant lights, mirrors, table lamps, wood panelling, tiled flooring, a love of artwork, detailing, ivy green upholstery, studded leather banquettes and a standout bar as a focal point to perch around.
When The Ivy West Street was refurbished in 2015 (by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, as is the entire Collection), a breathtaking warm-hued onyx bar was installed centre stage so that the dining tables skirt the room. There’s a real sense of arrival here, you’re on show, there’s interaction and animation, the dining room is illuminated by your presence for a moment.
The Ivy shot to fame for being the place to spot celebrity faces, but as the Collection is being rolled out, its aim is to deliver similarly high standards at an accessible price. “As long as we can maintain the quality, people will continue to be won over,” says Adam Ellis, whose London graphic and interior design studio is curating the art collections in each location. “The amount of effort in every aspect, not just in design, that goes into each site is a huge undertaking. I think it’s unprecedented, especially in this timeframe.”
Even since the Market Grill opened in 2014, we have seen a revving up of eclecticism in interiors. Ellis remembers that the Grill opened without artworks, but they quickly realised it needed them and brought together original and adapted prints to reflect the heritage of the area. By the time Soho opened this February, his studio was working at speed and this was very much “an orchestrated hang,” Ellis says. “The busy hang is enjoying a revival because they can completely transform a space.”
Next up is The Ivy Tower Bridge, south of the river, which opens at the end of July. Ellis says the challenge is its large glass frontage with high ceilings, which they have decided to embrace by choosing large-scale pieces and playing with the idea of reflection in a nod to its riverside location. The Ivy may not be the place to spot beautiful people, but it’s still a beautiful place to eat.