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The Ivy: Go for the people watching, not for the food

Review: Nothing on the plate at this big name opening will distract you too much

The Ivy
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Address: 13-17 Dawson Street, Dublin 2
Telephone: (01) 5050744
Cuisine: Fusion
Cost: €€€

Looking out the window of The Ivy on Dawson Street you’d wonder if a Little Londoning of Dublin is happening. To the right there’s a Carluccio’s, just up from it a Marco Pierre White’s. A Wetherspoons would complete that barnacle on the hull of an ocean liner feeling – Dublin as the rummage stall for once glittery ideas from the big smoke.

The original Ivy was opened in London just over a century ago by an Italian entrepreneur. It became famous for its theatre clientele, the beautiful and the damned in their gossipy element. It went through many hands, a succession of golden ages and has sprouted into the Ivy Collection, a chain of more than 30 brasseries and cafes, most of them in London and the southeast of England. Leeds and Manchester will be Ivy-ed this year. The Ivy Dublin is the first branch outside Britain.

In a food bubble it’s easy to imagine that everyone’s talking about this year’s big opening but my friend’s taxi driver thought she wanted to go to a pub in Crumlin and the 11-year-old in our house wondered whether I was headed to the Iveagh Hostel or the Iveagh Gardens. The Ivy’s reputation doesn’t travel much outside a certain zone.


There are two uniformed staff at a desk inside the door to check my booking. The only table we could get online was on a Monday night at 9.30pm. A walk-in table another night had come with an unappealing 90-minute wait.


My friend is at the bar with a rhubarb gin. It’s delicious but she has had to ask for a change of glass in order to fit all the tonic.

Our table isn’t ready so there’s time to look around. Despite its location in a newly built office block, there is nothing modern or minimalist about the place. The Ivy is a riot of colour, if riots were very orderly, polite and posh. The pop art crammed on the walls is punctuated with 19-century Dublin streetscapes and buildings. It’s a look that says country pile inherited by the party animal.

The bar is shiny marmalade-coloured stone, like a baptismal font chosen by a flamboyant parish priest. It’s a good deal jollier than our table. Something about the lighting here makes it feel too bright, like sitting in a cafe in a department store. “There’s surprisingly little atmosphere considering how much trouble they’ve gone to to create atmosphere,” my friend remarks.

The layout seems designed to make everyone very visible to everyone else. Maybe that’s deliberate.

The loos, which are down many stairs, have atmosphere in spades (and better music) but it’s not like you can eat your dinner down there.

The food

Perhaps all this is down to it being zombie hour of a Monday night and the melancholy edge that comes with needing a jacket and lights on the bike for the first time in ages. And being hungry. It’s past 10pm when the starters arrive and they are the best part of the night. Juicy scallops are great but the pea and broadbean puree is bland, not so much a reminder of summer as a wistful farewell to its freshness. Likewise my asparagus with truffle hollandaise. Good bright green spears are perfectly cooked but the truffle makes it all overly buttery without the lemon of a classic hollandaise to sharpen everything.

I have to order the shepherd’s pie, it being a key Ivy dish. The “hello Dublin” ingredient in this classic is Dubliner cheese, a cheddar made in Cork, and as inoffensive a cheese as you could get. The pie is a circle that’s a little bigger than a saucer with spikes of rosemary in the piped-on mash topped with the cheddar on top of (too few) juicy chunks of lamb shoulder and minced beef. It eats like the Thursday night staple in a Knightsbridge nursing home, a professionally warm handshake rather than a food hug.

My friend’s blackened cod baked in a banana leaf is pedestrian slightly overdone fish overwhelmed by a sticky sauce. A side of green beans and roasted almonds would have been infinitely better if they’d been hotter and dolloped with butter rather than just a sprinkling of barely toasted flaked almonds.

A cappuccino cake is a funny mix of chocolate cake surrounded with fluffy boozy milk mousse and a coffee sauce, all three elements muscling for your attention rather than rubbing together nicely. A strawberry ice-cream sundae has been assembled from good elements and is fine.

Did we enjoy it, our lovely waitress asks at the end. We did. There’s business sense in cloning someone else’s sepia-tinted legend when all the original players have long departed the stage. Nothing on the plate in this competent place will distract you too much from the gossip and the people watching. It’s about as Dublin as a Starbucks but that seems to be the way of the world. And if that’s your idea of a good night, then form an orderly queue. Dinner for two with a gin and tonic, one glass of wine and sparkling water came to €99.95.

The Ivy lowdown

Verdict: Good service, good prices but it's no Balthazar

Facilities: Ridiculously nice

Food provenance: A few names including Woodstown Bay oysters, Dubliner cheese and St Tola goat's cheese

Wheelchair access: Yes

Music: Nothing special

Vegetarian options: Very limited

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests