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Food review: The Ivy, Birmingham

Lavish doesn’t come close. The new 155-seat, three-floor, The Ivy restaurant at Birmingham’s Temple Row, which opened in April, is the acme of style.

Convivial dining – The Ivy serves food you want to eat, such as burgers and shepherd’s pie in beautiful surroundings
Convivial dining – The Ivy serves food you want to eat, such as burgers and shepherd’s pie in beautiful surroundings

Created by the group behind the world famous celebrity haunt of the same name in London, it’s been the most eagerly-anticipated restaurant opening in the Second City this year.

Leather banquettes in a dreamy shade of burnt orange mix with plenty of green palates and stunning Art Deco glass, lights and artwork to create a venue that’s part-restaurant, part-art-installation. It is, in a word, stunning.

Oozing wow and housed in the former Louis Vuitton boutique, The Ivy has the same sort of luxury that the designer label provided, though without prohibitive prices.

Sophisticated but relaxed, classy but informal, it’s a real Bobby Dazzler that offers customers the sort of food that people like to eat – rather than pretentious dishes designed to impress.

Art Deco appeal – The Ivy serves delicious cocktails

And so, for instance, the menu features such brilliant comfort food as The Ivy shepherd’s pie – it’s on my list for my next visit – comprising slow-braised lamb shoulder with beef and Wookey Hole Cheddar potato mash. I like the sound of that so much I could rub it on my face.

Prices are reasonable. Diners expecting to shell out the price of a top-class meal in London, will be surprised to find they can fork out just £21 for a three-course set menu. Expect accessible, brasserie-style eating with great value – but with added glitz and glamour.

With such glamour on every level, it’s important that the staff provide service that sizzles. And, happily, they do. A number of staff made frequent visits to our table when we popped in for a pre-concert midweek dinner. Pleasant and informal, efficient and thoroughly diligent, they didn’t miss a beat.

The venue offers an all-encompassing menu, serving British classics from dawn until dusk, including breakfast, elevenses, weekend brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, light snacks, dinner and cocktails. So you’re just as welcome to pop in for an Eggs Benedict as you are a Virgin Mary or homemade yuzu lemonade.

Salad days – crispy duck and watermelon salad

Depending on the time of day that you visit, you’re as likely to order a gluten-free organic granola as you are a signature Ivy burger or a grilled whole lobster.

In recent times, there have been those who’ve bemoaned the loss of independent restaurateurs from Birmingham city centre.

For every indie like Glynn Purnell there’s a flotilla of chains-that-don’t-look-like-chains, like Gusto and The Alchemist.

And yet when such multiples as The Ivy make such a good fist of new, Birmingham-centric venues, they are entirely welcome.

My partner and I ate on the second floor, taking a quiet corner seat where we had a view across part of the city and the rest of the dining area. It was stunning.

As, indeed, was the food. She started with a tempura prawn number that featured crunchy fried Nobashi prawns with pickled mouli, cucumber, edamame and a matcha tea sauce.

It was delightful. The tempura cracked like a brick through plate glass, the prawns were plump, salty and slightly sweet, the accompaniments offered textures and flavours that were cooling and umami-rich. OK, it might not have been quite as authentic as a similar dish at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, but she had no complaints.

Catch it if you can – the rare sesame-coated tuna

My starter was equally accomplished and offered dizzying flavour. A warm crispy duck salad was enlivened with five spice dressing, toasted cashews, cubes of cooling watermelon, beansprouts, coriander and ginger. It was packed with complementary textures and flavours; offering a pyrotechnic start to the evening.

Our mains were equally accomplished. She ate a whole grilled lobster with garlic and parsley butter, watercress and thick cut chips. It might have benefitted from a little more garnish and the chips were decent-but-not-outstanding. The lobster, however, had been deftly cooked, lovingly prepared and offered a luxurious dining experience.

My main was another classic; a seared Yellowfin tuna salad with shaved fennel, edamame and cucumber, wasabi mousse and daikon cress. The tuna was utterly divine. There’s a lot to be said for letting great ingredients talk for themselves and the sesame-coated, seared-then-cooled fillet was exemplary. The garnishes were harmonious, like singers performing a choral work in one of the world’s great cathedrals. The wasabi mousse, foam-like in texture, offered a hint of heat without overpowering. The fennel was aniseed-ey while the edamame and cucumber cooled things down. Ten out of 10.

Bag a table – it’s in the old Louis Vuitton building

We skipped dessert. Though the classic selection featuring crème brûlée and apple tart fine all read well, we’d got a date with a rock star on the other side of town and didn’t want to be late. The Ivy did, however, do more than enough to persuade us to return. Classic dishes, plenty of choice, good skills from the kitchen, engaging service and decent prices were duly noted – though, in truth, it’s the venue itself that’s has star quality.

The Ivy, in London, is one of Britain’s great gastronomic institutions and looking to replicate the Covent Garden joint in Birmingham was no easy task. The original has a near 100-year history and welcomed such guests as Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Madonna, David and Victoria Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and James McAvoy. The Birmingham one might not feature a cast quite so starry – there are decent performers at Arena Birmingham and the city’s Hippodrome Theatre; though Matt Slack, if he ever makes it there, is not in the same bracket as the Beckhams.

Divine starter – mozzarella di bufala

Nonetheless, those behind the impressive launch can tick the box reading: Mission Accomplished. For The Ivy Birmingham is hands down the best new launch in the city in recent years. Packed with razzle dazzle, it’s an intelligently conceived, brilliantly executed addition to the city’s dining scene.

For sure, it’s not an indie like Purnell’s, Simpsons, Adams, Carters and the like. But that doesn’t matter. It offers a brilliant new dining choice for discerning diners from across the West Midlands.

The question its backers will want to answer is this: Is it good enough to become a destination restaurant, like its famous Capital City predecessor? Absolutely, yes.

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