Usually, when a restaurant group rolls out new locations quickly, it’s a sign that the intrinsic quality of the original is not going to be reflected. Without naming names (but a certain Express of Pizza springs to mind, as does a mid-market French chain that rhymes with bôte), it is hard not to be disappointed when an initially excellent concept ends up being diluted and made dull. This, thankfully, is not what has happened with the Ivy Group’s expansion. Virtually every affluent town in England – your Winchesters, Marlows and Cheltenhams – now has their very own Ivy Brasserie, to which number Brighton must now be added. The surprise here is not just that it’s good, but how stylish and distinctive it is, in a city that has more than its fair share of other excellence.
Walking into the impressive room in the centre of town, the first thing that one is struck by is how busy and bustling it all is. The walls are colourfully decorated with interesting and stylish art, there’s a well-patronised bar in the centre and the other tables are largely banquettes; this is, one realises quickly, a place to see and be seen. It’s also telling that the clientele is – how best to put this? – more traditional than in many of Brighton’s other establishments. One looks in vain for piercings, elaborate hair styles or other signifiers of the alternative. The diners here are well heeled, literally and figuratively.
One does not expect the wheel to be reinvented with the menu, which sticks to many of the old brasserie standbys. Yet they are done very, very well. A rib eye steak on the bone is cooked to perfection – making up for the slight preponderance of fat on the meat – and a special of sea bass with tapenade tastes as fresh and light as if it’s been caught from Brighton pier that very morning.
A salad of crispy duck with watermelon is light and wholesome, and a child’s sausage and mash is eagerly wolfed down – although we did notice that the mash isn’t as soft and buttery as it has been in days of yore. Perhaps a concession to a young palette? The wine list is well stocked and sensibly priced; we were especially taken with a bottle of Portuguese Duoro, which was both richer and more interesting than its Spanish cousins.
The best thing that we ate, fittingly enough, came last. ‘Have the chocolate bombe’, our friendly waitress advised us, and we did. It’s a delectably theatrical concoction of chocolate, honeycomb and vanilla ice cream, masquerading as a golden ball until it’s melted with some salted caramel sauce, resulting in a gooey and moreish delight.
It’s not the sort of thing that one is ever going to find recommended by Deliciously Ella, but it’s wonderful; a naughty but nice treat that’s destined, like much of the rest of this marvellous place, to be a favourite with lovers of top-notch food. Frankly, if the Ivy Collection can remain at this level of quality everywhere, I would hope that it achieves Nando’s levels of saturation; high streets would be graced by a considerably better and more interesting level of establishment.
The Ivy in the Lanes, 51a Ship Street, Brighton, BN1 1AF. For more information, including menus, and to make a booking, visit www.theivybrighton.com.