The Ivy Café opened in Richmond last week and my friend Liz kindly offered to take me there as a birthday treat. I was pleased to get the chance to try it out so soon after the opening but also slightly uncertain of how I might find it. I say this because it was going to be the third Ivy offshoot I’d go to. When The Ivy Market Grill opened in Covent Garden a couple of years ago, my friend Annie and I went enthusiastically and with, it has to be said, high expectations. But who wouldn’t expect a lot from a ‘child’ of one of London’s – it not the world’s! – best-known restaurants. The Ivy has been a favourite with the famous since it opened in 1917. I’ve never been but have always imagined if I did, I’d have a wonderful meal there. In the end the Market Grill turned out to be hugely disappointing (click here for my review). Then, a few months ago, another friend suggested meeting at a branch in Wimbledon. My experience there was better but the service wasn’t as good as it should be. So, what would I find in Richmond. Happily, it turned out to be my best experience of the three but I still found some issues with service. The fact that they only opened last week is no excuse; they are part of a growing chain with a very exclusive and famous pedigree. They should get every step of the meal right.
Richmond’s Ivy Cafe has opened on the site of what was previously an All Bar One and before that a bank. It’s a large open area and has been styled very attractively, very much like a high-end Parisian brasserie; it was certainly a lovely place to sit and enjoy a meal. There were linen tablecloths and lovely thick linen napkins with the Ivy logo. Everything spoke of luxury. The only drawback – as with all open restaurants like this – is it’s quite noisy, but luckily we were given a table in a corner, which was quieter and gave us a good view across the restaurant.
As we were celebrating my birthday, Liz suggested we had a glass of champagne (£9.50). This was a real treat. I drink quite a lot of prosecco these days or Spanish cava and I know you can get some excellent sparkling wines from places other than Champagne now, but for me, real French Champagne is still special and my preference. This house champagne was very good.
The menu is extensive and there were quite a few things I could have happily chosen. However, for a starter I went with Atlantic Sea Scallops served on a pea purée with broad beans, lemon zest, sea cress and crispy shallots (£10.95).
This was nice and I liked the different flavours, but the scallops were just very slightly overdone and I would have preferred a less chunky purée. Liz opted for Raw Market Salad (£6.75) – thinly shaved market vegetables with avocado houmous and Manuka honey.
This was beautifully presented and Liz had fun deciding what various shaved vegetables were; they included courgette, carrot, mooli and red radish. I was given a couple of tastes. It was a good dish and Liz really enjoyed it.
Rather weirdly they brought a dish of arancini with the starters. We hadn’t ordered these and asked what they were. They didn’t question whether we’d ordered them so we assumed they were some kind of amuse-bouche. But if they were gratis (I must get Liz to check we weren’t charged for them if she still has the bill), why bring them then and not with the champagne. They were nice but didn’t really go with our starters. A basket of bread would have been nicer but was never offered – which is a bit unusual in a French-style brasserie.
There was another service hiccup when they brought our mains before clearing the dishes from the starters. The waitress made a vague comment about the kitchen working too quickly but really that’s no excuse – I think she’d just forgotten she hadn’t cleared the table and it would have been more honest to admit it and apologise. It’s really an unacceptable thing to do in a decent restaurant.
For a main, I stuck with fish and ordered Line Caught Swordfish with red pepper sauce, cherry tomatoes, toasted fregola, pesto, lemon and baby basil (£15.50). There were also a lot of olives – not included in the list, but that was OK as I like olives; if you don’t, you might feel a bit caught out as olives have a strong, distinctive flavour.
Again, the presentation was very attractive and it was a very good dish, which I enjoyed a lot. A nice thick cut of swordfish, which could happily take the deep-flavoured sauce and accompaniments. Liz meanwhile had chosen Roast Salmon Fillet with asparagus spears, baby watercress and soft herb sauce on the side (£15.95). The waitress did ask if she wanted the salmon pink or well done, which was appreciated.
Liz said this was excellent. We also ordered a side of Thick Cut Chips (£3.95).
They were good mains and we enjoyed them. Neither of us had room for dessert (although there were some tempting options) and so we ordered coffee for me and peppermint tea for Liz, which was nicely served in a small silver teapot. We then asked for the bill, which came quite quickly and before Liz had had a chance to open the wallet and look at the bill the waitress was standing at her side with a card machine – again, not brilliant service; it gave us a sense of being hurried.
The café is open from early morning until late evening and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are some ‘sandwich’ options for a snack but priced between £9.75 and £14.25, not a cheap option. The Ivy Café is a good addition to Richmond, which is sadly pretty much full of familiar restaurant chains – Carluccio’s, Côte, Zizzi, Byron and others. I guess The Ivy Café is part of another chain but at the moment quite a small one and carrying a huge heritage. I didn’t see the final bill as Liz treated me, but the food alone, without wine and coffee, comes to over £50, so while not very expensive, it’s not a cheap place to eat. I’m sure I’ll go again as it’s on my local food doorstep, and I did enjoy my food, particularly the main course, but they need to smooth out some problems, most particularly the service that was unpolished – and not overcooking scallops!