The Ivy On The Square 4/10
THE fern that sits in the lobby of The Ivy On The Square in Edinburgh is artificial, emblematic of the whole restaurant. It’s a financier’s maladroit attempt to clone the original, venerable Ivy, that vintage haunt of celebs in London’s theatre land. So far Edinburgh is the 10th location for this brand roll-out; another six are “coming soon nationwide”. Milking the kudos of the one-and-only authentic Soho establishment, four “Ivy Cafes” (and another in the pipeline), complete the current “Ivy collection”.
Judging from the pricing and pretension at the Edinburgh Ivy On The Square, this generic operation is an attempt to carve out a classier niche that sits above the Cote chain. By classy, I mean significantly more expensive, and in no way worth the price tag. I wonder how many people have already eaten at the Ivy On The Square, submitted the faux glamour to sober reflection, then concluded that the food choice is terminally boring, the ingredients, which are unexceptional, are both crudely executed and indefensibly overpriced? If Noel Coward, a habitué of the original Ivy, was alive I’m sure he’d make some sardonic observations on how it had been traduced.
It’s a tedious menu – the sort you get in international hotel chains – with lots of repeat ingredients. Truffle tramps its odiferous footprint all over it; yoghurt, and watermelon proliferate. Mayonnaise acts as a chameleon: with yuzu, wasabi, more truffle. The Ivy seems fixated on Gran Moravia, a “parmesan-like” cheese made in the Czech Republic, and creamed or mash potatoes. With the exception of Isle of Mull cheddar, the Ivy On The Square seems to serve ingredients available on speed dial from any number of restaurant suppliers. Uninspired, I eventually manage to work up some enthusiasm for chicken or pork Milanese (£15.75), but neither is made with free-range meat, so that option disappears. But the Ivy chain’s investors will doubtless appreciate the chunky gross margin on ingredients in this and other dishes.
Sourdough bread has an oddly elastic crust, and a borderline mouldy, almost greasy taste. Truffle arancini sock you in the mouth with a persistence that tastes as if the truffle paste used had flavouring or flavour enhancer in it. Crispy duck, harder and sweeter than toffee popcorn, as if someone has lost the plot in the condiment section of a Chinese supermarket, comes with partially burnt cashews, watermelon, beansprouts, coriander and a dressing that takes me back to cinnamon ball sweets. The Ivy has a brazen nerve to charge £13.50 for its shepherd’s pie: miserly beef-lamb mince, a scraping of mash, a grating of cheese, a jug of preternaturally cloying, glossy brown gravy. “Baked sweet potato” (it tastes boiled), a teaspoon of yoghurt and smear of green stuff purporting to be “kale pesto” adds on £3.75. And that’ll be £16.95, thank you very much, for “blackened cod fillet” struck dumb by another cocktail of misunderstood Asian condiments, and served on a burnt banana leaf. Eastern cuisines make many wonderful dishes with fish and banana leaves, but this cack-handed, illiterate effort doesn’t figure in them. I won’t dwell on the glaring gastronomic ignorance and cognitive dissonance in the idea of “yuzu mayonnaise”, or its pretty, but hard-to-like accompaniment of blanched bok choi and radishes that taste like stagnant water. By this point we’re thoroughly out of sorts – poor food, brusque, harassed service, cramped tables, the background rumble of extractor fans or similar – there’s no celeb-y style here. We share one dessert, “apple tart fine”, a lazy corruption of the French “tarte fine aux pommes”, a mean, slight confection with barely a quarter of an apple on it. I’m not convinced that the pastry tastes all-butter, and the ostentation of its warmed, flamed Calvados merely adds a burnt alcohol whiff. The addition of crumbled honeycomb and baby leaves is a further cry for help.
It’s not possible to roll out a template for great restaurants. They aren’t simple to create or to maintain. There can only really be one Ivy.