The Ivy - London - Covent Garden
A dinner fifteen or so years in the making
Despite being weary when we arrived in London directly from San Francisco a couple of Sundays ago, we checked immediately into our hotel before heading straight out to the South Bank's Royal Festival Hall to catch up with a couple of old friends and meet their baby daughter who had been no more than a tiny bump when they'd stayed with us in San Francisco a year earlier. After enjoying an hour or two of their company over a couple of large and refreshing Pimms studded with fresh fruits and mint leaves and topped up with sparkling lemonade, we decided that although at 7pm, it was uncommonly early for us to even think about dinner, if we didn't dine soon, we would probably fall fast asleep.
Before they headed home we asked our Londoner friends for some suggestions. Within walking distance of the Savoy, I was tempted to give its Grill a try, not only because of my unfailing love for Chef Marcus Wareing's recipes but because of The Grill's bargain Sunday set menu deal. My London friends swiftly put us in our place. "You'll never get into the Savoy without a jacket and a tie."
"I know where we should go", I suddenly squealed, getting all excited at the thought of my impending suggestion. "The Ivy". My London friend laughed again. "You will never get into the Ivy at his short notice - they are booked for months in advance.
Hmmph. Not fair.
I have to put The Ivy, which is tucked down a small, less-travelled street on the edge of Covent Garden, into some kind of perspective. For years I used to walk past it on my way to and from work in Soho. I was mildly obsessed with the notion of the Ivy. The paparazzi were often camped outside waiting to snatch a shot of this or that film star, pop icon, actor or other celebrity. It was the place where the rich, the famous and the theatrical dined, a fact which had led me to believe, that for me, it was out of reach.
From the outside, the Ivy is discreet. You would hardly know it was there. Simple, but beautiful leaded stain glass windows give nothing of what is inside away, a heavy door reveals no secrets, and the presence of a very proper, topped and tailed doorman might go someway to unnerve mere mortals looking for a bite to eat.
Because the Ivy's facade keeps its secrets so well, there is much day dreaming a girl walking past every day can do. In her mind's eye she draws pictures of the decor, the fine clientèle and beautiful food. Everything at The Ivy must be fabulous. It's what she encouraged herself to believe.
"That's it" I said to Fred, ignoring my friends' advice - "I have wanted to go to the Ivy for over fifteen years, and now is the time". And so the two of us set off across Hungerford Bridge for the 15 or so minute walk towards the enigmatic Ivy.
As we neared our destination and the gentlemanly doorman came into distant view, I began to feel a little bit nervous. What if they say no? I was thinking, what if we aren't dressed correctly? What if they laugh at our request? I took a large gulp of bravado and announced to the gentleman in the Top Hat: "We haven't made a reservation but we were wondering if you might be able to accomodate a walk-in table for two?"
"That might well be possible", he replied "please, come in and ask at the host stand", said he, opening the door wide to let us enter. Gliding over the threshold was easy, then, but still I braced myself to ask the same question of the Maître d'. "Certainly he replied, adding "as long as you don't mind vacating your table by 9.15pm". "No problem", Fred and I chorused in unison, after all it was only 7.30pm and we knew that due to our jet lag we were fading fast. We were in.
And that is where my own story ends. If you, too, want to know what its like inside The Ivy, then you will simply have to find out for yourself. And don't let anyone allow you to believe you might not be worthy of knocking on The Ivy's door.
Stephen Fry in his recent 'Blessay' on Fame remarked about the advantages his own fame brings him: "I can get a table at the Ivy restaurant and tickets for premieres and parties.." But Stephen - didn't you know - any Tom, Dick, Harry or Sam can just walk into The Ivy and be seated for dinner? I think I might have just proven it so...
PS - Thanks to everyone who expressed concern over my visa situation whence I was recently stuck in the UK. I am happy to report that my passport and visa were suddenly and unexpectedly returned to me 10 days earlier than I believed possible and I was able to fly back to California this past weekend. I have a few British posts in the backlog, though, including reports on Jamie Oliver's Fifteen - Cornwall, Bristol's Bordeaux Quay which to my surprise I found featured in the current issue of Gourmet on my return to the US, plus an unexpected and quite spectacular meal that blew all the big names out of the water.