I’m in the Covent Garden area a lot and recently when I spied The Ivy Market Grill had appeared on a corner of the Piazza at the junction with Henrietta Street, I made a mental note that I must try it. I’ve never been to the famous Ivy but this offshoot had to be worth a try. Back home I found some good reviews and when I talked to Annie we decided to give it a try this evening.
It’s huge inside (and I’m pretty sure it used to be a Lloyds bank as I remember often using a Cashpoint there!) but its makeover has produced an elegant restaurant that has the feel of a Parisian brasserie. It’s been divided into smaller sections to make it seem more intimate than it might otherwise be and this has worked well. Annie and I arrived at the same time and were shown through a short maze of tables to the back and a table for two. The space had a nice feel to it; the tables not too cramped so you felt you had some privacy.
Thick linen napkins are always welcome. Menus were brought and we were asked if we wanted water and a carafe of tap water came while we decided on food and wine. There was an early evening set menu at £16.50 for 2 courses; £21 for 3. There was a reasonable number of choices but we weren’t inspired and turned to the à la carte. It’s a huge menu catering for all day, from a breakfast menu, an afternoon tea menu and a selection of other dishes from ‘light & healthy’ lunches and sandwiches to full-on main courses like rack of lamb – and, of course, grills. Grilled steaks of various kinds; grilled salmon, chicken, lobster or tuna. Really, how could you not find something you were longing to have. Yet we struggled a bit. We couldn’t understand why and I in the end blamed it on the weather. It was too hot and humid outside to indulge in the roast duck confit with 5-spice sauce or the special Market Grill shepherd’s pie. In the end, we picked two main courses and instead of starters decided to order some ‘for the table’ drink accompaniments: ‘salt crusted sourdough bread with salted butter’ and some ‘crispy courgette fries with lemon, chilli and mint yoghurt’ to share. I remember saying to the waitress that ‘instead of proper starters we thought we’d have these to begin with our wine’ …
There wasn’t a great choice of wines by the glass and no half carafes. Annie and I never want to share a whole bottle but a half carafe gives you two large glasses. All the wines came in 175ml glasses – except for the fizz which came in the usual 125ml size. We chose some Gavi (£7.50 a glass) and when it came it was nicely chilled and very delicious. Our bread came quickly too.
It turned out to be a whole small round loaf, still warm and very delicious. There are few things so good as a fine sourdough loaf and this was excellent. The butter was warm and soft though – it really should have been served chilled. I had a slight inkling things were going to go wrong when the courgettes were slow to come. But eventually they arrived (I guess more cooking was involved) and they were impressive too.
I just adore courgettes fries like this and we were really enjoying them but had barely begun when suddenly our mains appeared. I immediately said that we were only halfway through our starter, we didn’t want our mains yet. They apologised and took them away, but it was a bad mistake. A waitress came back and apologised again and said to let her know when we wanted our mains.
Annie had ordered a Grilled Chicken Salad: grilled chicken breast, quinoa, avocado, sesame and mixed leaves with a yoghurt, ginger and lime dressing.
It was a large plate, attractively served, and she said it was nice but not special. I’d ordered Grilled Salmon with Steamed Asparagus and Watercress Hollandaise. Simple but should be delicious and perfect for a hot summer’s evening.
It was very disappointing. I suspected that perhaps when we sent the mains back because we hadn’t finished our starters, they’d kept them warm rather than – as they should do – prepare new mains when we were ready. The salmon was moist but cooked right through, not a nice pink and slightly rare centre as one expects in a good restaurant; in other words, a bit overdone. More disappointingly still it was pretty tasteless and therefore not particularly pleasant. The hollandaise was OK but nothing special; the asparagus a touch too al dente with more bite than is good.
How does a restaurant – even a cheaper more informal version – carrying the ‘Ivy’ name get it so wrong? We discussed the meal and both felt that we’d expected a bit of a wow factor. I know it’s all too easy to shatter high expectations but then the ‘Ivy’ name carries expectations. Our ‘starter’ of the bread and courgettes was a success – though rather spoilt by the bad service of bringing our mains too early. Annie was happier with her main but neither of us thought we’d be rushing back. What a shame. It was all so promising and I did like the interior and atmosphere; the location, of course, is brilliant, but I’d much prefer to return to nearby Balthazar for a similar but better experience.