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Review: The Ivy, St Albans

PUBLISHED: 10:56 09 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:56 09 July 2018

The Ivy, St Albans (photo: Paul Winch-Furness)

The Ivy, St Albans (photo: Paul Winch-Furness)

Photographer Paul Winch-Furness

Opening night at the St Albans branch of the Covent Garden restaurants shows the ethos travels well

Bagging a table at The Ivy St Albans on opening night was a bit of a coup, but with risks. Those who know the original in Covent Garden might consider the idea of planting a bunch of Ivy-lites in strategic locations around the country, albeit under the aegis of a separate division of the company, to be diluting the product. Openings are also notorious for things going wrong, and there are first-night nerves to consider.

For the moment, the newcomer is playing it safe. Great care has been taken to preserve the Ivy look, complete with the well-known diamond motif and the addition of brightly-coloured and striking illustrations recalling the history of St Albans. Also in place is the Ivy tradition as a place for good and simple food. Shepherd’s pie still leads the Classics list on the menu and there are fish and chips, lamb shoulder, the Ivy hamburger (only one) and steaks in there too. But like its London equivalent, the menu has moved on, so now we also have among the starters Wasabi prawns with salt and pepper squid, while mains include aromatic duck curry, crab linguine and roasted butternut squash with grains.

General manager Karthikeyan Chandran says the aim is to bring to St Albans the ‘Ivy ethos’ of ‘relaxed yet sophisticated dining and great service’. He adds, ‘We are out to provide accessible all-day dining for residents, businesses and visitors alike, bringing a touch of Ivy magic to a greater number of guests throughout London and the UK. We take the time to get to know our new neighbourhoods and regular guests, ensuring all our brasseries and cafés are unique and tailored to each local area.’

For my visit, I recruited three fellow critics instead of the usual one to provide a four-pronged overview of the menu, the work of head chef Oliver Smith overseen by the Ivy Collection’s executive chef, Sean Burbidge. One of our number was so taken by the choice of starters she had two and went without a main course, while we managed only one dessert among us but survived by ordering mini-chocolate truffles to go with the coffee.

Chicken Milanese (photo: Paul Winch-Furness)Chicken Milanese (photo: Paul Winch-Furness)

Most popular dish of the evening was the starter of Wasabi prawns with salt and pepper squid (£8.75) – so much in demand the kitchen temporarily ran out. It found some more, by which time we had ordered a substitute. We were then offered the dish we had ordered free, just one example of the excellent service on the night.

Seeking to ring the changes, our other starters included warm crispy duck salad (£7.95) with five-spice dressing, toasted cashews, watermelon, beansprouts, coriander and ginger; and two servings of warm asparagus spears (£7.95 each), with truffle hollandaise and baby watercress. We also indulged in zucchini fritti (£5.75), with lemon, chilli and mint yogurt; truffle arancini (£5.50), which are fried arborio rice balls with truffle and parmesan; and yellowfin tuna carpaccio (£9.95), with tomato, watermelon, ponzu dressing, miso mayo and sesame.

Main courses began with blackened cod fillet (£16.95), baked in a banana leaf with baby pak choi, shaved radish, toasted sesame and yuzu mayonnaise; plus jasmine rice (£3.25). It sounds complicated but the mix of ingredients worked well with the coating on the fish. Chicken Milanese (£15.75, below), with brioche crumbs and marinated tomato, capers and rocket, was equally popular and served with tenderstem broccoli (£3.75), while the aromatic duck curry (£14.95), with lemongrass, chilli, roasted cashews and steamed jasmine rice was as expected, but in a good way.

Finished with an exotic apple tart fine (£7.95, right) with vanilla ice cream and Calvados flambé and the mini truffles (£3.50), which have a liquid salted-caramel

Apple tart fine with calvados flambe (photo: Paul Winch-Furness)Apple tart fine with calvados flambe (photo: Paul Winch-Furness)

centre, this was an enjoyable meal in new and different surroundings distinguished by a high quality of service and food. Not just my opinion, but shared by four of us.

The Ivy is also open for private dining and for breakfast and weekend brunch, sandwiches, afternoon teas and cocktails. A set menu is available Monday-Friday from 11.30am-6.30pm at £16.50 for two courses or £21 for three.

Dinner for four was £172.26 (£87.13 per couple), including wine and automatic service charge. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

3 of a kind

Thompson

Former Hertfordshire Life Food and Drink Awards winner for Best Restaurant and Best Chef, Phil Thompson’s ‘refined eatery’, still sets the pace.

2 Hatfield Road, St Albans AL1 3RP. 01727 730777

The Restaurant at Sopwell House

Lord Mountbatten’s former country home provides a relaxed environment for comfortable fine dining recognised by the award of two AA Rosettes and regularly-changing menus.

Cottonmill Lane, St Albans AL1 2HQ. 01727 864477

Judges

Lavishly refurbished former village pub with fine dining offer spread across several rooms, plus cocktail bar and lounge areas with informal eating from brasserie-style menu.

Judges Hill, Cuffley EN6 4BT. 01707 802104

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