The Ivy has become a London institution; it opened in 1917 but in recent years it has been a notoriously difficult reservation to obtain. The room itself is pleasant though unimposing, with wood panelling and stained glass windows, and tables that are fairly small and quite closely packed. The key to the success of the Ivy has been a very appealing menu of British and French dishes combined with attentive service. The menu appears on a large card and is extensive, with dishes ranging from a burger up to some more elaborate dishes, but in all cases things that normal people might actually want to eat, rather than some innovative dish that a chef has put together to show how clever he is.
The wine list starts at £24 and had plenty of choice under £40, while mark-up levels seemed quite varied, though mostly high. The list included selections such as Joseph Cattin Sylvaner 2009 at £34.50 for a wine that costs around £9 in the shops, Eyrie Pinot Blanc 2009 at a steep £59 for a wine you can buy for £11 retail, while Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc 2009 was a more reasonably marked up £76 for a wine that you can pick up in the shops for £25. If you want to splash out then at the upper end of the list is the divine 1999 Vega Sicilia Unico at £400, roughly twice its retail price of £196. We drank some pleasant Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio 2010 at £45 for a wine that retails at £12, and the lovely Chateau Musar Hochar 2003 at a pricy £79 for a wine that you can find for £19 in a shop.
My starter was spaghetti (£12.75) with prawns, chilli, garlic and parsley. The pasta itself had good texture with a hint of firmness, the prawns cooked perhaps a fraction longer than ideal but still fine, and the touch of chilli and garlic lifting the dish; quite a lot of olive oil was used, but this was a very pleasant dish (14/20). The best dish was a main course (to be shared between two) of whole roast chicken (£44 i.e. £22 a head) with foie gras stuffing, truffle jus and pommes sarladaise (garlic potatoes). The chicken itself was from Devon and did not have that depth of flavour you get with the best chicken from France, but the truffle flavour and the foie gras worked well to lift the dish out of the ordinary, and the chicken itself was accurately cooked (15/20). A main course of halibut (£27) was not at this level but was also nice, char-grilled with a correctly-made sauce béarnaise (13/20). One of our dining companions professed himself very happy with the hamburger (£14.75). For dessert, a pear tarte tatin (£9 per person, another sharing dish) had decent pastry and a reasonable level of caramelisation, a classic and enjoyable dish (14/20).
This was a very pleasant meal, with lots of appealing dishes, capably made. Service was fine, with a very friendly receptionist, and good topping up. The cooking here is not trying to push any culinary boundaries, and for that I am eternally grateful. The only issue that really occurs here is the size of the bill relative to the level of cooking, but given the permanently packed dining room it is hard to argue with the formula. Although our bill was £118 per head that was with quite a lot of wine, and the food element of my bill alone was £44, which is not a bargain but not truly excessive either.