History oozes from almost every street in London, and with history comes tradition; something that London does best. History and tradition can often be seen within the restaurants of London. When you think of traditional dining in London you will likely think of restaurants such as Wilton’s on Jermyn Street or Rules on Maiden Lane who have been open since the 1700’s, or possibly even The Ritz whose Traditional Afternoon Tea is legendary (although possibly too much of a tourist trap these days). You might even consider Simpson’s On The Strand where the waiters here still place large joints of meat on silver-domed trolleys and wheel them to guests’ tables rather than carry dishes individually, which was originally done to avoid disturbing the games of chess which were traditionally played in the establishment!
The common feature within each of these venues is the attention to detail which has been carried forward throughout the years, specifically in the standard of service. Some people scoff at the high prices that are affiliated with these venues, but those prices don’t just cover the cost of ingredients, they cover the outstanding quality of service offered to you by the staff.
Another restaurant synonymous with tradition and perfect service is The Ivy. So when its little sister The Ivy Market Grill was born late last year in Covent Garden Piazza (in the place that once housed Pizza Hut!) I found myself confused… how could a brand shiny new restaurant inhabit the traditions of a well established iconic dining room?
The answer is with flawless service, elegant decor and a menu that honours the traditional dishes often featured on The Ivy’s menu, but with an affordable yet still high quality twist.
No, this restaurant does not feature the same well known diamond shaped stain glass windows that make the original Ivy’s exterior so recognisable, but you will recognise the green leather banquettes, the lack of side plates (something which does irk me somewhat if i’m honest!) and a presence of gold railings around the elegantly stocked bar.
The biggest difference between the original and this new little sister is the price points on the menu. The Ivy will set a couple back at least £100 for a meal, while the Market Grill could see a pair walking away satisfied and full for less than £15 each!
I’ve been a few times now, so I am able to recommend more than just their truffled chicken sandwich and the fish sandwich, though they are worth a mention despite their low, very un-Ivy like price. The truffle chicken sandwich in particular has a great rich flavour, with enough truffle to enhance the flavour, but not too much to overpower. It’s served warm and is the perfect way to satisfy lunchtime hunger. The fish sandwich on the other hand is a beast of a sandwich, served with chips. It’s not, as I expected, a fish finger sandwich – this is more of a fish from your local (way better than average) chippy kind of fish, with a beautiful golden batter wedged between two slices of gorgeous, fresh buttered bread. It’s a bit of a pickle to eat, but you have the option of cutting it up and making it all slightly easier, and you can slather on as much tartare sauce as you like.
For the table, you are very likely to be tempted by the truffled arancini balls and the zuccini fritti. Make sure you give into that temptation, because the arancini balls in particular are simply superb! There’s no shortness of truffle on this menu, and like the sandwich, they’re not stingy with it either. The fritti look a lot like shoe-string fries and pack a lot of flavour consideing their size, though they are quite salty, and get saltier the further you get into the bowl, though I still adored them.
If you’re prone to the occasional liquid lunch (maybe with a truffle sandwich on the side), the cocktail menu features a martini lover’s dream. The Three Martini Lunch is a selection of martinis served in tasting glasses – a Plymouth gibson, a Vesper, and a modern dry vodka martini. Incredible value for money and a great way to get you through to the afternoon.
The first time I visited The Ivy Market Grill was a few days after they opened, and I had just had my braces tightened. As a result, I was miserable, and couldn’t eat anything because it was agonising, and so my only option was to have soup. The seasonal soup, which is pumpkin & black truffle, is now up there with one of the best starters i’ve had. The amount of flavour in the bowl was outstanding, and the presentation (with a pumpkin filled raviolo perched in the middle, surrounded by pumpkin seeds) was just beautiful. Despite being unable to chew, I polished off every last drip from the bowl with the salt-crusted sour dough bread we had ordered on the side.
On separate occasions I have also tried the ham hock terrine and the mushrooms on toast. The ham hock is juicy and packed with flavour, though the saltiness can become a little intense by the end of the dish, though the curried celeriac that accompanies it does balance it out nicely for most of the duration. The mushrooms on toast have an intense, meaty flavour which warms you like a hot winter stew might, and the variation of mushrooms is gorgeous.
The main menu offers many classic British dishes, similar to The Ivy, though again at a lower, more affordable price. Diners can choose from a range of steak cuts and a selection of shellfish and seafood. Burgers are available (and while i’ve not ordered one myself, I can tell you they look incredible!)
On the first time I was dining for dinner, I ordered the Fish Pie, and much to my horror and the surprise of our waiter, they had sold out, for the first time since opening. I was devastated to be honest, but not for long, because then someone walked past with the roast duck dish and it was then I knew that it was that dish I really wanted. It was beautiful to look at, and beautiful to eat. The duck breast, served with confit leg croquette and redcurrant sauce, was juicy, beautifully pink (a pretty sight with the red sauce) with a gorgeous, tender texture. A side of buttered kale and spinach made for a wonderful addition to complete the dish.
On one occasion, after a gorgeous meal when I didn’t quite have room enough for a dessert but still fancied a little something, I chose to treat myself to an Espresso Martini; a favourite cocktail of mine. It seems like an appropriate end to a meal for me. The Ivy Market Grill’s Espresso Martini is even more appropriate as a meal ender because of the addition of indulgent salted caramel, thus transforming it from a nightcap to a dessert digestif. Perfect! It’s rich but all the while refreshing, with a perky kick enough to ensure you don’t take a nap in your taxi home.
All that said, restaurant does quick lunches, elegant dinners and delicate aperitif and digestifs incredibly well, but where it really excels is in its desert menu. What first grabbed my attention when I first dined was the Baked Alaska. If you read my blogs regularly you may already know that I love Baked Alaska. Really, really love it. So obviously, I simply had to order their lemon meringue Alaska with lemon ice cream, lemon curd and baby basil. The tang of the lemon makes the mouth water, and the soft, gooey meringue is addictively sweet. It’s a quality dish, but it’s not the winner. The prize for the best dessert on the menu, and would you believe it, one of the best desserts in London, is the Chocolate Bombe.
The first time Josh tried the Chocolate Bombe, he cried. I’m serious. No, he didn’t weep, but his eyes pricked with moisture and the hairs on his arms stood on end.
The thing about this dessert is it satisfies almost everyone of your senses. Visually it is more than just a treat. It arrives, unassuming, plain and modest. Then comes the hot salted caramel sauce that is elegantly dribbled over the chocolate dome until it begins to melt, revealing the vanilla ice cream with a honeycomb centre. That’s the treat for the eyes, but the treat for the mouth is even more spectacular. The sweetness of the chocolate is met with the salty tang of the caramel sauce, while the milk foam is light and fluffy. The combination of every element makes the tastebuds sing. Well… maybe it doesn’t make them sing, but it does make them crackle as hidden at the bottom of the sweet bowl is a smattering of popping candy. Thats where your sense of hearing is tickled, while your sense of touch is tantalised with the juxtaposition of the hot caramel and cold of the ice cream.
When it comes to what it smells like, I’m sorry, I can’t help you there, but I have been reliably informed that it doesn’t have much of a smell… but 4 out of 5 isn’t bad! If you want to experience the visual beauty of this dish, you can view my video on Avanatta ← click here! And if you want to experience the rest of it, you’ll just have to go and order it… and know this: Josh compared the pleasure one experiences when eating this dish to post coital satisfaction. So in conclusion this dish is as good (if not better, depending on who you’re dating!) as sex.
Congratulations to The Ivy Market Grill, you’ve done it!