The Ivy lays roots in a trendy Brighton Lanes location
A firm fixture on London’s swanky social scene since 1917, when the first restaurant opened its doors at 1-5 West St near Covent Garden, The Ivy – originally a theatrical institution graced by the likes of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, which has since woven itself into late-night London folklore – has more than spread its wings. With multiple branches across the UK and Scotland, including a sophisticated spot just a few minutes’ walk from Tunbridge Wells’ iconic Pantiles Georgian colonnade, far from ‘selling out’, each and every Ivy has retained its air of exclusivity, all the while becoming more inclusive. Polly Humphris went along to their latest hotspot, Brighton’s The Ivy in the Lanes to check it out.
Walking into The Ivy in the Lanes, what first strikes you is the exquisite interior design. There are flashes of welcome continuity in relation to its older counterparts – the centrally located oval bar crowned with hanging racks holding spotless glasses that reflect their gilded surroundings being one – but there’s more than a touch of Brighton in the look. Bold, tropical, elegant and suitably camp all at once, huge paintings of everything from crabs, pelicans and palm leaves are framed among the art deco arches and mirrors for which the chain is famed alongside coastal imagery and sketches of the city’s most treasured landmarks that peep through on closer inspection.
The toilets – and this is a first – deserve their own mention, if not their own Instagram account; never before has a Brighton set of bathrooms been more shared on social media than the ladies’ at The Ivy in the Lanes. Marble tiles in white/grey, black and gold; six full-length mirrors framed in flattering strip lighting that demand post-touch up selfies; fresh flowers; gilded columns; gold, gold and yet more gold, all held together by a cushioned, blush banquette seat sat proudly in middle, they are the epitome of glamour and one of the best places to hang out in Brighton on their own merit.
Onto the food then. Open all day, this seaside Ivy rustles up breakfast, brunch and afternoon tea classics between 8am and 5pm, but dinner, in my opinion, is always the real marker of how good a restaurant’s cooking is and – with room for 240 diners, plus private dining for up to 20 in an equally decadent private space at the back of the restaurant – is also no mean feat where service is concerned.
You can order from the à la carte menu from 4pm and I rocked up at 7pm for what most would consider an early table and yet the place was heaving; instantly evoking a laid-back air, there were after-work drinkers at the bar, pre-theatre diners making the most of the set menu (available at a very reasonable £21 for three courses from 11.30am until 6.30pm daily), as well as couples and groups of friends meeting for a sociable meal – a reassuringly relaxed mix in an already buzzing atmosphere.
I can’t resist a tuna carpaccio, so that had to be ordered alongside tempura prawns, which both had more than a touch of Eastern allure about them. The yellowfin tuna was sliced just thick enough for bite and topped with fresh bursts of tomato and watermelon, both giving an initial hint of sweet that was then given greater depth and a punchy hit of Oriental salt-and-sharp flavour in the form of ponzu dressing, miso mayo and sesame. Large Nobashi prawns in a light, crunchy tempura batter followed leaving their pickled mouli and cucumber plate-mates in the shade, but only because their succulence and sweet flavour spoke so deliciously for themselves.
Unadventurous or old-fashioned perhaps, but I associate The Ivy with life’s finer things, and although there is all manner of foodie temptation punctuating their menu, I was only ever going to opt for steak and lobster for main. How a kitchen presents lobster is a mark of confidence and ours arrived exactly as it should – grilled whole and split lengthways alongside a peppery watercress salad, a silver pouring jug brimming with melted garlic and parsley butter, and a portion of thick-cut chips; meaty and rich, soft and sweet – it was heaven-sent. Our rare steak – such a simple request, yet one that so often disappoints, did exactly the opposite here. Cutting like butter, rich with rendered fat and elevated by a side of creamed spinach, it was devoured in near silence, which says it all.
Start with a classic G&T, or an English Spritz from their cocktail menu, and if you can, finish with the crème brûlée. The Ivy in the Lanes, much like its professional and attentive service team, is a classy, cool and pretty special addition to Brighton’s burgeoning scene.
The Ivy in the Lanes
51a Ship Street,