The Ivy Asia is not much like its namesake, nor in Asia. But it is an excellent night out, discovers Edwin Smith
As shopping centres go, One New Change is a nice one. It remains, however, a shopping centre.
This could seem like a strange place, then, for a branch of The Ivy – the legendary restaurant that won fame as a sort of upmarket canteen for the brightest lights of the West End: Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, John Gielgud and Noël Coward were all regulars in their day.
These days, things are different. The original Ivy remains in theatreland, on the acute corner of West Street and Litchfield Street. But, under the stewardship of current owner Richard Caring, the brand has grown like Topsy (or indeed ivy). A Dubai outpost has closed, but there are now more than 35 Ivy ‘Grills’, ‘Brasseries’ and ‘Cafes’ in all four corners of the Britain and Ireland – from Glasgow to Dublin, Harrogate to Norwich.
The most recent to open – if I’ve managed to keep up – is The Ivy Asia. Slightly confusingly, it is not in Asia, but rather occupies the former site of Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa in the City.
As I mentioned, this is in a shopping centre. But you soon forget that as you pass through the glass doors and into the lobby where a combination of clever lighting and tiles made with thinly sliced agate crystals makes the floor glow pink.
Upstairs, the floor glows green. Some people might find this gimmicky – it’s obviously ‘made for Instagram’ – but it makes the place feel rather cool and other-worldly. So do the life-size models of Samurai warriors that are dotted about. The best lurks in the gents’ loos – standing at the last in a row of urinals and peering over his shoulder at anyone who comes through the door. I nearly leapt out of my skin when I first clocked him staring at me.
You can’t forget you’re in London here – the panoramic windows that frame St Paul’s Cathedral see to that – but there is plenty other evidence of Asian inspiration. The enormous bar that runs almost the length of the restaurant is shaped like a pagoda. Courtesy of bar manager William Beatty there are inventive, unusual cocktails like ‘The Great Wave’ (apparently inspired the Hokusai woodcut of the same name) with Haku vodka, RinQuinQuin peach liqueur, lemon juice, egg white, jasmine and rosemary.
Executive chef Simon Gregory (an alumnus of the Gordon Ramsay Group) and head chef Deepak Kotian (formerly of Nobu) have combined to produce a menu that runs from sushi and sashimi to bao, skewers, tempura, as well as substantial meat and fish dishes. All bases are covered. (There’s even Oscietra caviar at 30g for £85.)
The Brunette and I took up our chopsticks and plucked up mouthfuls of succulent miso black cod, delicate snow crab rolls, plump glazed king oyster mushroom skewers and crispy tofu with avocado, which was the only thing that didn’t taste quite as inspiring as it sounded. The best dish we tried was the black truffle prawn & pork dumplings, which were salty, rich and served with edible gold.
The crowd, as you’d expect in this part of town, appeared mostly to be workers from the nearby gleaming offices of the City. Generally speaking, they were young, which fits with the instagrammable, vibey feel of a place where a DJ was playing clubby beats even on the Tuesday night that we visited. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays it stays open until 2:30 am.
This all adds up to make the Ivy Asia feel not very much at all like its namesake. But one suspects that’s the point. And, even if this restaurant doesn’t appeal to some of the original’s stalwart customers, there are many more new diners and revellers who will come here and feel as though the growth of the Ivy is only good news.