First Look: Inside the Ivy restaurant on Dawson Street
The Soho landmark, a celebrity favourite, is getting a sister restaurant in Dublin
Rarely has there been a more hotly anticipated new restaurant opening in Dublin than the Ivy Dawson Street, to give the 243-seater on the ground floor of the landmark One Molesworth building its full title.
Following a series of preview events and a soft opening for “family and friends”, members of the public will get a chance to perch on commodious caramel leather stools at the onyx bar or nab a squishy banquette seat, from Tuesday, July 24th.
The restaurant is part of the Ivy Collection, a diverse group of restaurants, cafes and brasseries under the same ownership as the original Ivy restaurant in Soho, which last year celebrated its centenary. They are part of Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings, which operates a string of high profile restaurants and hospitality outlets across London and the UK, including Scott’s, J Sheeky, Daphne’s and Sexy Fish.
The Dublin opening is the group’s 27th since 2014, and the first outside the UK. Baton Berisha, operations director for the Ivy Collection, says that the group began looking for a Dublin location in 2016. “It just seemed right. We felt there was a need for an all-day dining restaurant of the Ivy’s calibre. I am quite confident that it is a perfect location for us.”
Norwich, Manchester, Leeds, Canary Wharf and Glasgow are the group’s next locations for new openings, but Berisha says there are no further international locations in the pipeline. “Not now; we don’t have any plans currently.”
Work got under way on the Dublin fit-out in February, and no expense has been spared in turning the ground-floor and basement premises into a talking point. “We didn’t have a budget. We just wanted to do the project right and build a beautiful, striking restaurant,” Berisha says. “I don’t know yet the final figure on what it’s going to cost.”
The brasserie-style restaurant will open from 7am for breakfast, with last food orders at 11pm, seven days a week. There are 148 seats in several distinct areas in the main dining space, plus 23 at the bar, 40 on two outside terraces and 32 in the Jonathan Swift Room, a private dining space in the basement.
Jamie Belton, formerly of the Dylan McGrath group of restaurants, is general manager and Nick Lentini, who was the launch chef for the Jamie Oliver restaurant in Dundrum, is in charge of the kitchen. The restaurant is employing 150 staff, 85 of whom will work front of house.
Online booking went live on July 3rd, and by the afternoon of that date, an 8pm table for two was impossible to secure for the restaurant’s opening week. However, according to management, up to 30 per cent of the tables will be held back for walk-in business. “This will depend on the day of the week and the time of day,” Belton says.
Positioned on the corner of Dawson and Molesworth streets, with outside seating on both, the brasserie-style restaurant will serve breakfast (and brunch at the weekend), lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.
The menu is vast, and competitively priced, with two- and three-course set menus for €19.95 and €24.95, as well as a la carte, broken down into snacks, starters, fish and seafood, steaks, sandwiches, sides and desserts. Lamb and chicken dishes are also included and there are a couple of vegetarian options. There is a cocktail menu featuring lots of Irish spirits, and Guinness on tap.
Signature dishes from the Ivy, such as shepherd’s pie (€15.95) and crispy duck salad (€9.75), have made the journey across the Irish Sea. The rib-eye and sirloin steaks are being supplied by John Stone Beef in Longford (though the menu doesn’t reveal this). Elsewhere, the oysters are from “Woodstown Bay, Co Waterford”. Boilie and Dubliner cheeses are name checked, and Dubliner whiskey makes it into both the steak tartare (€11.25) and the creme brulee (€7.95).
“We want people to be comfortable. The menu is quite extensive – there will be something for everyone – so if you want to have a three-course meal you can come in for that, and if you just want a sandwich or a coffee, you can do that also,” says Berisha.
“Guests can dine outside during the warmer months, as well as enjoying drinks alongside nibbles. Unfortunately, our outside tables cannot be pre-booked as they are not fully covered and depend on the weather,” Belton adds. Nibbles are a strong point, with the group’s zucchini fritti (€6.75) and truffle arancini (€5.95) justly popular with diners in the UK.
A wall of harlequin stained glass, the glazed diamonds being a signature feature of the original Soho premises, greets diners at the Dublin brasserie’s entrance. The bar, with its warm honey-toned onyx counter, is at the centre of the dining room, splitting the space into two distinct halves, the Green, on the side closest to St Stephen’s Green, and Trinity, at the opposite end. Martin Brudnizki Design Studio is responsible for the interiors.
The artwork is an eclectic mix of old and new, chosen and curated by the group’s art consultant, Adam Ellis. While the bar, the seating and the flooring are almost identical to other Ivy Collection restaurants, the artwork has a Dublin theme.
“Our artwork was sourced by Adam from antiquarian print sellers and auctions, together with his own studio-based work. Of particular note are a set of five James Malton views of Dublin that include Phoenix Park, Trinity College, St Stephen’s Green, Charlemont House and Powerscourt House,” Belton says. In all, there are 300 individual artworks in the restaurant.
The Jonathan Swift Room for private dining, and the toilets are at basement level. With no natural light entering this area, the designers have gone for full-on sensory assault, with the private room featuring wall to ceiling panels depicting scenes from St Stephen’s Green and the Phoenix Park in the 1800s, while a Leopold Bloom depiction floats overhead on the ceiling.
The women’s toilets, four of them, are sure to be in big demand, each a self-contained space with an onyx vanity unit, and every wall surface papered with big, blousy blooms. “All our wallpapers throughout the restaurant, private dining room and washrooms are bespoke and made to order by AE studio,” Belton says.
Form an orderly queue . . .
So you want a table at the original Ivy?
The original Ivy restaurant, the 101-year-old London landmark on West Street in Soho, beloved of thespians, art and media personalities, is notorious for being a very difficult place to secure a prime-time reservation.
So how far in advance would a diner have to book a table for 8pm on a Saturday night, Fernando Peire, a director of the restaurant and its private members’ club, is asked.
“You wouldn’t get in. Not by telephoning up. If we didn’t know you, and you wanted to book a Saturday night, you just wouldn’t. If you called between four and six weeks in advance for a table on Saturday night, you’d be told that there would be availability, probably on Sunday at 12.30pm, or maybe Tuesday at 6pm might be available,” the restaurant’s former maitre d’ says.
So does that mean that online booking on the restaurant’s website has certain times and tables blocked off? “At the Ivy? Of course. Think about it: it makes business sense. If you have regular customers they expect to get things when they need them.”
Peire, who wrote The Ivy Now, to mark last year’s centenary, has a lot to say about restaurants’ reservations. “One day I’ll probably write a whole chapter of a book about this very question. How do you get a table at a restaurant without being rich or famous ? Of course, if you are really rich you can afford to give everyone a £50 tip every time you come. Then they’ll remember you, won’t they? Not suggesting that that’s what you should do at the Ivy, though.”
What can be done, then?
“You earn it, so you become a regular customer at the restaurant, and that means you start off by coming on the Sunday lunch and then on the way out you say, ‘Any chance of a table next Sunday lunch? And what’s your name? Brenda. Oh, how lovely to meet you, Brenda.’
“However, having said all of that, if you walk into the Ivy without a reservation, and you seem like a nice person, then they will try to give you a table, or try to get you a place at the bar. We’re very, very good like that, and I get offended when I go to restaurants and say, ‘Any chance of a table?’ and they say, ‘Sorry, we’re fully booked,’ and that’s it, it’s over. I want people to say, ‘Gosh, you haven’t got a reservation? Let me see what we can do, hold on a moment, let me have a look . . .
“When I was the maitre d’ I was famous for saying to people, ‘Look, I am really sorry, I can’t get you in tonight, there’s my card, next time you want to come, even at short notice, give me a call.’ ”