The Ivy On The Square 4/10

Sunday Herald Life - - REVIEW - Joanna Blyth­man

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.

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