The last time Brighton Journal committed to a review of a restaurant on Ship Street, the night ended in catastrophe for all concerned. That was at the dearly departed Asian fusion restaurant The Rickshaw – she of the confused staff, peculiar random menu and upstairs washroom filled with garden gravel, now tragically replaced by the overpriced coffee shop Trading Post. It was therefore with some amusement that we returned, very nearly, to the scene of our former torture. The Ivy in the Lanes, Brighton’s newly opened franchise of the well-known London haunt of luvvies and media types The Ivy, is right opposite The Rickshaw’s former residence. You can see it through the window.
It was pretty clear from the moment we arrived that whoever runs The Ivy in the Lanes learned almost nothing of their trade from the madmen who contrived The Rickshaw. The Ivy in the Lanes is, without hyperbole, a beautifully designed restaurant. The decoration is bright and exceptionally colourful, yet stays the right side of garish. The central bar evokes 1930s art-noveau decadence, this impression being supplemented by low-key jazz bubbling away in the background. Jazz is in general terms a ghastly blight, yet here it absolutely works, being entirely in keeping with the surroundings, yet quiet enough to be subliminal rather than intrusive. Late in the evening the mood is changed when staff dim the lights and the jazz is switched to equally low key dance music. This is subtle stuff done well. I doubt many guests even notice.
In another departure from The Rickshaw’s cherished Ship Street traditions, the restaurant was busy on our arrival, so we settled down at the bar with some cocktails while watching the convivial and generally efficient staff give their employers real value for money, constructing cocktails at an astounding rate. What cocktails they are too! Unlike modern cocktails Ivy in the Lanes cocktails hark back to their 1930s forebears. That means that they taste of alcohol. Really a lot of alcohol. My companion opted for an Ivy Royale, a sharp concoction with a sherbert-like fizzy aftertaste and I selected a whiskey-laden timebomb of an aperitif called a Plum Tree. Both were gorgeous. My companion was initially dismayed by the size of the drinks in question, but decided that when a drink kicks like a drunken mule, you really don’t need that much of it.
We were shortly led to comfortable seats and started to order. There has been some criticism of The Ivy in the Lanes that service can be a little intense, but our impression was that was simply efficient, and staff were perfectly happy and patient with dithering diners. My companion on this occasion dithered for an eternity, before carefully ordering everything in the wrong order then changing her mind repeatedly in as confusing a manner as possible, so I am proud to say that we tested this to the utmost yet detected no hint of the rumoured intensity. I also appreciated the concerned look from our waiter as I tasted the wine. Well I might send it back I suppose – even if it that would sort of imply that I didn’t know what I was doing when I ordered it.
I ordered Atlantic sea scallops, which were soft and palatable, on a bed of pea puree and broad beans which complemented the shellfish perfectly. Meanwhile my companion got stuck into tuna carpaccio with tomato and water melon, which was suitably light and tangy. My main course was slow-roasted lamb shoulder with a mustard and herb crust, on a bed of mashed potato, spring vegetables and a rosemary gravy. The lamb was perfectly cooked, melt-in-the-mouth goodness. It was delicious.
Because the main courses don’t come with vegetables, we had to bulk these out with orders of peas, sugar snaps and baby shoots and tenderstem broccoli. That could have been vexing, but given the surprisingly reasonable price of both the main courses and the sides, which cost less than four pounds, it was hard to be irritated. My companion ordered the rib-eye steak medium, but was given it well done. The waiting staff immediately offered to replace it, but luckily there was no need as it was in any case fantastic, being tender, moist and beautifully flavoured. If there is a better steak out there, I have yet to taste it.
For dessert I had the chocolate bombe, and was hugely entertained by The Bombe Show (if you haven’t seen it order one!), which was only marred by the waiter initially pouring the wrong sauce onto it. The dessert itself was extremely sweet, as one would expect, it being a dessert, and containing honeycomb and caramel. My companion had the flourless cappucino cake, which was equally sweet and sticky and, like everything else, of exceptional quality.
All in all the food was superlative, and the service also. If one was being picky – and being picky is basically the entire point of writing a restaurant review – the staff made at least three mistakes in terms of ordering and service. However this was one of the rare occasions where it didn’t feel like mistakes mattered too much. The Ivy in the Lanes is a relatively new establishment, so a few errors were entirely understandable. If anything a little humanity on the part of the waiting staff enhanced the evening, which otherwise might have felt production-line polished.
That isn’t to say though, that the night wasn’t without some other comedic interludes. At one point a waiter suddenly and for no obvious reason hurled a silver tray to the floor by our table with a resounding crash. This had an electrifying affect on our fellow diners, who until this point had been munching away with the easy somnolence of contented cattle and were shockingly plucked back from Ivy World to imperfection for a few unpleasant seconds. Some thirty seconds later my companion (whose reflexes are perhaps not the sharpest) abruptly booted our own table in response, causing two undrunk and highly expensive cocktails to hurtle groundwards. This caused a lot of obsequious clucking from the waiting staff, before two replacement cocktails were rapidly and unjustly restored to us.
Then there was the strange business of The Ivy’s washrooms. As the evening drew to a close, my companion disappeared to the washroom. She was gone for what seemed like a day or two, but then washrooms lure women like the fairy realms of legend, where fleeting moments at the court of The Fairy Queen last decades in the waking world, and the reveller returns to find her formerly youthful peers elderly and decrepit.
When she eventually returned she was indeed in a state of rapture, eyes glazed with stupefaction at the astounding beauty of The Ivy Washroom. The photographs she took (she had in fact been enjoying a selfie marathon) suggested a realm of palatial luxury modelled on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in the reign of Louis XIV. There is beautifully arranged seating. There are mirrors by the dozen. There are sort of flowery curtain things (being male I have no idea what these are, or what their function is, but they are there). It is a gleaming diamond of a washroom. Undoubtedly the finest in Brighton. It should be sponsored by Givenchy and Hugo Boss. THAT class of washroom.
She begged me to report on relative conditions in the male version of The Ivy Washroom. Off I rushed in anticipation. I wasn’t going to take too long about it. I would have a couple of rounds of ‘Call of Duty’, and maybe play darts for a while in the imagined games room. Imagine then my disppointment when I got there and it was a washroom. Just a washroom. With washroom stuff. No vast expanse of mirrors for the men. No seats or flowery curtains. Just toilets and sinks. All very clean and perfectly satisfactory, but you could find similar chambers in a higher end fish and chips establishment.
We raised this strange discrepancy with the reception staff on the way out. The face of one of the reception staff twisted with sudden ire and she launched into an inexplicable rant “Women have been oppressed by men for centuries, and …” she started before eventually petering out. “Ok so women have been oppressed by men for centuries and therefore men are given an inferior toilet in this restarurant now? Is that official The Ivy in the Lanes policy? Can we quote you on that?” Sadly she wouldn’t be drawn further, nor afford us an official quote, so the mystery remains unsolved at the time of writing.
Curious incidents aside though, do we at Brighton Journal think that The Ivy in the Lanes actually any good?
Put it this way. I feel that I need to review The Ivy in the Lanes a few more times. Please can I? Please?
The Ivy In The Lanes is awarded 5/5 by Brighton Journal.
We ordered Atlantic sea scallops, tuna carpaccio, slow-roasted lamb shoulder, rib-eye steak, peas sugar snaps and baby shoots, tenderstem broccoli, thick cut chips, a chocolate bombe and flourless cappucino cake. Prices for the main courses and supplements are by no means expensive, although alcohol and starters did feel pricey. A bottle of Bodega Catena Argentinian malbec was expensive at £40. The bill came to £153.75.