Simon Richardson tries to like this shiny new upmarket chain, but fails. Twice
The Ivy and I have become rather familiar over the last few weeks. After attending the press opening, I was keen to review it and booked a table for a few weeks after. I won’t mince my words – it was dreadful. The food was almost entirely horrendous, and the service was muddled, nervous and borderline unprofessional at times. We shared our disappointment with the table next to us, who were similarly upset, and I was all set to write a savage review.
However, the manager had the wherewithal to spot that we had been unhappy throughout. She sat down with us, went through the issues and came back with a bill that wasn’t far off being free, assuring us that it had been a one-off.
So, fast-forward seven days and I was back to give it another go. What follows is the sorry story of our second visit.
If we’d settled up and left right then, this would have been a very different review.
On arrival, we are greeted by no fewer than five members of staff, all immaculately dressed in red and shivering away in the foyer. There is no denying that the surroundings are quite stunning. They have spared no expense on art deco fittings and some beautiful ceiling-height plants. The bar, the tables, the glassware and the cutlery – everything is so shiny. It’s like the place magpies go when they die.
We start with a couple of cocktails – a honeysuckle daiquiri (£8.75), which is sweet but delicate and a Yuzu lemonade (£4.50), which is a mile away from the sharp sourness that I wanted.
So far, not so bad. Their sourdough (£3.95) is also soft, warm and plentiful. If we’d settled up and left right then, this would have been a very different review. Instead, we get going with our starters.
The prawn cocktail (£9.75) arrives beautifully presented with prawns much larger than the 1970s picnic dish, while the deep-fried squid and prawns (£8.75) come in a suitably shiny silver bucket. Neither taste particularly of fish.
The half lemon-cum-bouquet garni that comes with the prawn cocktail is unrelenting – rock-hard and dry. The squid, meanwhile, is overdone and rubbery. I’m reminded of our conversation with the manager during our first visit. She told us that the fish came from the Isle of Man, as we sat looking out at Kirkgate Market, awash with many excellent fishmongers. To my mind, there’s just no excuse for that.
A medium-rare fillet steak (£29.50) comes alone on its plate, at a fairly measly 7oz. It’s also overcooked, so we send it back and get a replacement that is tough on the outside, like old roast beef, and cold in the middle. If I had to guess, I’d say it had been reheated having stood in oil all day.
The fish special (trout, £15.95) is even less impressive. The “crispy” skin is chewy, it’s swimming in oil and the sauce is watery and tasteless. And again, no real fishy taste to speak of, plus a rock-hard piece of lime as a garnish. Who plates these things up?
One positive note, a bottle of Chateau la Croix (£37) is deliciously rich and full of dark fruit, holding its own against the steak with no problems. The same manager appears and, recognising us, knocks the steak and wine off the bill. Great service - if only everything matched her standards.
Things don't improve with the sides. The sweet potato (£3.75) is four wedges of soggy, flavourless disappointment with an unpleasant texture – like baby food. The chips (£4.50), meanwhile, are almost certainly cooked from frozen. They come with clumps of parmesan and truffle, normally two of my favourite things, but somehow the balance is all wrong and I can barely take more than a mouthful. The flavour is so unpleasant that we have to plead with the staff not to replace them when the new steak comes out.
Desserts are a mixed bag. The sundae (£7.95) is very well done; fruity, creamy and pretty much faultless. I go for the chocolate bombe (£8.50) having had a waitress attempt to upsell it on the first visit - “It’s not just a dessert – it’s a show”. All it shows me is that unnecessary gimmicks do not contribute to a good dish. It comes out encased in chocolate, which melts as the server pours a hot liquid on to it. What is left is a messy mix of far too many sweet liquid things. To be frank, it’s horrible.
Both times we visited The Ivy, the undiscounted bill was around £170. For that price, you have every right to expect a seriously high-end dining experience. What you get, though, is so far from that it's untrue. Looking around when we first sat down, the place was rammed. It'll be interesting to see how long they can trade on the brand name alone.
To top the evening off I receive a text from a friend who's just eaten at the Ox Club, where the bill came to the same amount, but for four people. And by God, were they treated to a culinary experience.
The Ivy has replaced a trainer shop in the Victoria Quarter, though given the texture and flavour of the fish, I'm guessing a few stray plimsolls made it onto the menu. I urge you, go to Stockdales, Ox Club, Matt Healy at the Foundry, Vice and Virtue or Home for your special night out – Leeds is spoilt for choice. But for God’s sake, don’t go to The Ivy.
Ivy Leeds, Vicar Lane, Leeds LS1 6BB.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Sourdough 7, Prawn Cocktail 5, Squid and Prawns 5, Steak 4, Trout 2, Sundae 7, Chocolate Bombe 4, Chips 1
Pleasant enough, if a touch snooty
One excellent manager, but the rest are poor