Ivy Cafe, Tower Bridge by Paloma Lacy

Once upon a time, The Ivy was probably one of the West End’s most well-feted restaurants, known for the famous names gracing its tables and infamous for the jaw-dropping prices.

The roll-out of the slightly more relaxed Ivy cafes across London in the past couple of years has made the brand more accessible to the masses, with the introduction of a more reasonably priced menu.

I  popped along to the Tower Bridge restaurant last week to see what all the fuss was about.

They say location is key, and it doesn’t come more swanky and awe-inspiring than 1 Tower Bridge, with spectacular views of the great River Thames and her adorning bridges.

This being a Friday afternoon, the place was packed with a good mix of local workers, lunching ladies and tourists organised enough to book ahead. A few people turning up on the off chance of an available table left bitterly disappointed. You have been warned.

The décor remains upscale with its leather banquette seating, softened by scatter cushions perhaps too comfortable to avoid that post lunch slump. Open from breakfast, through to lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, not forgetting cracking cocktails, the menu could be considered British brasserie fayre, with the expected international influence.

My friend and I got carried away with the sourdough and butter (£3.95) that arrived as we perused the menu and also thought it advisable to order olives (£3.50) and zucchini fritti (£5.75). Crispy courgette fries with lemon, chilli and mint yoghurt was a great choice, but really rather filling. After this little lot, we didn’t need starters but battled on regardless. I decided to go the classic route and ordered the same two dishes I had at the original Ivy, more than 20 years ago, with mixed results.

Prawn cocktail (£9.75) is a favourite of mine and certainly looked the part – decorated with a good chunk of baby gem lettuce and a giant king prawn for that wow factor. However, it let itself down a little on taste, with a departure from a classic Marie-Rose sauce to poor effect. I’m not sure quite what was added to the traditional recipe but it failed to enhance it.

Had we not feasted so well before the starters arrived, I’d have been more disappointed as I had to leave most of it but as it was, I was able to leave room for the main course. It was not inedible, just not to my taste.

Perhaps the dish most synonymous with the Ivy name is its shepherd’s pie (£13.50), noted for the delicious combination of lamb and beef. This of course makes it somewhere halfway towards a cottage pie but that’s semantics and most important of all is that it just works wonderfully well when it comes to flavour. Best of all, it wasn’t a huge portion, enabling me to polish it off with relative ease.

My friend’s blackened cod illustrated the smattering of international flavours in this crowd pleaser of a menu. An often used and somewhat trite description, there really is something for everyone. Steak and burgers loom large for the traditional diner, with yellow in tuna and crab linguine for the more adventurous.

The a la carte menu is excellent value for a Central London restaurant but the set menu will only set you back £16.50 for two courses and £21 for three courses, with three very different dish choices for each course.


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