More Minor League than Ivy League
You need seriously influential contacts, it seems, to get into the new Ivy Chelsea Garden, a Robert Caring owned sister restaurant to the Shepherd’s Pie haven of fame in Soho. One of London’s It restaurants of the moment and supposedly a celeb haunt, getting a table here is a definite and desirably flauntable mark of high society status.
Lest I give the impression that I am one of those chosen few who know whomever you need to know, let me tell you that I’m not, I am merely in the lucky position to have some excellent friends who do. Super dooper, all the results without any of the effort, I say. Work smart, not hard! So when one of my most favourite girlfriends suggested a lunch with a gaggle of my other most favourite girlfriends at the Ivy Chelsea Garden, I was all over it.
Now here’s the thing: I am too hopelessly pragmatic a person to touch any place with a barge pole that has timed ‘sittings’ or which tells you, the potential punter, what time you may eat. Errr, no! I don’t want my supper at 6.30 pm or at 9.30 pm! Equally, I resent having lunch before I have fully digested my breakfast or, conversely, close to teatime. It’s just not convenient, and the whole idea of eating out is about convenience and comfort, being spoilt and being indulged, at least in my book. So I didn’t go a bundle on the 2.30 timing for lunch. Sinatra may well have called me a tramp, as I get way too hungry to wait that long but, in view of the fact that my priority was seeing my buddies rather than eating, I was delighted to comply on this occasion.
The restaurant, diagonally opposite the Chelsea Fire Station, certainly has the most stupendous garden, huge and very prettily presented, a dream on a summer’s evening, no doubt. Even now, garden heaters by the tables take the edge off the autumn chill. I arrived early and was pointed towards the small designated bar area right at the back where I ordered a cup of coffee to while away the time. It took 25 minutes to arrive and was then swiftly followed my friends. We were led back to our table into the buzzy, busy, noisy, heaving brasserie style interior, chockablock with Chelsea ladies who lunch, groups of Middle Eastern men and a goodly sprinkling of Essex WAGs, happily brandishing their bottles of champagne along with lurid nail varnish colours.
Little nibbles were ordered to titillate our taste buds while we were perusing the menu and indeed, that’s just what they did. Baskets of divinely succulent, garlicky truffle arancini (fried riceballs with truffle pecorino) and gorgeous thin strips of crispy zucchini fritti soon had us salivating for more, as we were shouting our latest news to each other over the din.
A variety of dishes then followed, a very nicely presented crispy duck salad, a grilled loin of tuna, a grilled fillet of salmon, chicken Milanese and my choice, something I thought would be a light afternoon snack, an ‘HLT’, a grilled halloumi cheese, avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwich served with thick cut chips. My gang of four were pleased with their orders and said that, while their food wasn’t going to set the culinary world on fire, it was ‘quite nice’. My HLT was a different story altogether, two largish toasted bridge rolls were each filled with a limp lettuce leaf on scraped on pesto, a slice of completely tasteless beef tomato and a few apologetic, sad and under grilled little strips of halloumi as well as a little container of what appeared to be tartar sauce on the side. The avocado was conspicuous by its absence but the chips were ok. When asked about the avocado, the waiter twice insisted that this dish had no avocado in it. Then, when asked for the menu, he returned with half a sliced avocado on a side dish. Hrmpf. Since I did not particularly want to eat quite so much bread and chips, the remainder certainly met my criteria for a very ‘light’ morsel! Dear reader, heed my warning and never ever order an HLT at The Ivy Chelsea Garden! Fresh air is more appetizing!
Still, there was pudding to look forward to. Three desserts were chosen, to be shared between the five of us by a democratic decision favouring things chocolatey and ice creamy, not necessarily my all time favourites. (Everybody knows that it’s cheesecake all the way for me!) The melting chocolate bombe with milk foam, vanilla ice cream and honeycomb centre plus hot salted caramel sauce got rave reviews from all the others; for me, however, it was too sweet. The strawberry shortcake sundae with poached strawberries, vanilla ice cream, Chantilly and crushed meringue was really quite bland and unexciting. The frozen summer berries with yoghurt sorbet and warm white chocolate sauce was the nicest of the three in my opinion, although it beats me why you would serve or even eat frozen berries at the height of the berry harvest season. Hey ho, it’s a topsy turvy world out there…..
The bill came to £207.17 between the five of us, i.e. £42 each including a bottle of wine, a couple of glasses of prosecco, soft drinks, two vegetable side orders and service charge, which, though galling in respect of the dreadful HLT, overall isn’t too bad, considering the amount of drinks consumed.
The Ivy Chelsea Garden doesn’t really ring my bell. The food is pleasantly mediocre at best and quite shockingly awful at worst, the service is not particularly welcoming or efficient, the smiles forced, noise levels are very high preventing any form of decent conversation, and the place seems to be bursting at the seams with socialite wannabes. On the positive side, the garden is gorgeous and the restaurant obviously great for people spotting, if that’s what you’re into. Personally, it’s not a venue I would choose, simply because there are at least a handful of far nicer, prettier, more intimate places for a much more delicious lunch in Chelsea. Still, if I should happen to find myself there again by invitation of a glamorous friend, as I know I shall in a few days time, I hope that just like Batman’s sexy foe, Poison Ivy’s second kiss will be the antidote to the first toxic embrace!