Ivy league or lots of pet peeves? The Ivy, Cardiff City centre.

At the back end of 2019 there was seemingly (at least in some circles – not mine) much excitement as to the arrival of the Ivy in Cardiff (Wales Online referred to months of anticipation).

For the opening of what is in effect a branch of a chain (they have 32 restaurants and 4 cafes) the hype was quite something to behold, but it has been pretty much packed out ever since (people were queuing out the door when I walked past on one Friday lunchtime and people were being turned away on the day of my visit) so clearly plenty of people have bought into it.

Those I have spoken to who have been to the place have given mixed reviews. Some loved it, other expressed a view that it was all a bit style over substance – nice decor, which may be great for the Instagrammers, but nothing to excite on the food front.

What’s great from the “Gram” doesn’t always translate into great grub!

Despite or probably because of the hype, the Ivy hasn’t really been on my list regarding eating out and I visited more out of curiousity than any great desire. With a decision having to be made as to a venue for lunch, I thought what the heck let’s see what it’s like and in the diary it went.

If I am honest, I am not quite sure where the Ivy is positioning itself on the food front.

This conclusion seems to be reinforced by the reference on the Ivy’s website menu page to “With something for everyone“, which can all too often translate into “Not much of interest to anybody” in my experience and the likelihood of a Brakes lorry pulling up outside.

I had always assumed the Ivy’s modus operandi was to cover your standard comfort/classic British stuff with the likes of fishcakes and shepherd’s pie (which can be an utter joy if done properly), but it also offers Spanish, Italian, Southern India, Japanese Mediterranean and even African inspired dishes.

Is the huge menu a homage to our melting pot society or a let’s bung everything we can think of on it philosophy?

There are also various other menus, most notably a breakfast one, with the place offering all day dining.

Nigh on £14 for a full English seems pretty ambitious pricing (outside of the captive hotel market) as does nearly £4 for a cuppa. Nice to see kippers on there mind.

I was there at lunchtime and J having deserted me in terms of being a lunch time companion means it was all change.

She has gone and got herself a new job outside of the city centre – I mean who would swap my “scintillating” company at lunch time for more money, amazing perks and a better work life balance – the decision frankly baffles me (especially as, as I wrote this up, J messaged me to tell me she was drinking champagne in one of the business class lounges at Heathrow airport pre a work trip to NYC – as I say baffling!).

As a result, my new irregular lunch time companion (bit like Doctor Who me – regrettably with a new companion I don’t seem to have regenerated) is M.

M use to have the enviable task of trying to organise me in work before she went on to bigger and better things (they all seem to) that don’t involve hitting her head against the wall repeatedly in utter despair.

As with J (who will still feature on the blog), M has forthright opinions as to food and life in general (calls a spade a spade and me an arse, regularly) and thus doesn’t soft soap on the food front.

The Place

My friend (and work wife) Rachel thinks the place’s decor is the business. As she loves a bit of chintzy bling, I can see why she likes it.

Sort of reminds me of ex – colonial places in the Far East where they have put a spin on things to make it look like the old country.

Even the loos have had the designer treatment,

although I was disappointed there were no Waterford (or should that be Waterworks) crystal urinals!

For a minimalist, design philistine, like me it all seems a touch OTT.

The Food

As interesting or is that “instagramming” as the decor was, we were there at lunchtime for food rather than to admire the scenery.

Being a tight git I immediately defaulted to the fixed price menu (£16.95 for 2 course and £21 for 3 courses – on the pricier side of most of the City’s fixed price offerings – still don’t think you can beat the Asador 44 fixed price lunch in the City centre)

A few pet peeves here.

Firstly, whilst it is billed as a fixed price menu, there is a dreaded supplement on it (not an insignificant one at that at £3.95) for the minute steak. If you have to add a supplement, my view is don’t put it on a fixed price menu – especially if it is one of only a few (four here) options.

Secondly why refer to the egg with the minute steak as a fried “hen’s” egg? Hen is the female moniker for virtually every bird, so if I order the hen’s egg in theory I could get a ginormous ostrich egg, a miniscule bee hummingbird egg or something in between?

We all know it is going to be a egg from a chicken unless it states otherwise and it certainly ain’t coming from a rooster (now that I would pay good money to have delivered to the table), so why do places feel the need to add hen?

Have to say lots of places do this odd “hen’s” egg thing and I have never understood why!

Thirdly there is a clear instruction to upsell the sides, which are far from cheap. No veggies with the cod goujons dish, for instance, seems odd but adding one would take it over £20 for two course.

After much deliberation I decided to go for the ham hock croquette to start.

The wording implied a singular croquette and what arrived was just that, although of a decent size.

The croquette itself was quite nice, with a crisp coating and it didn’t suffer from the curse of all croquettes of a cool core. There was plenty of the promised ham hock in the mix and it had a decent flavour to it.

What let it down were the accompaniments. The celeriac salad (a remoulade I would say) was bland (lacking a mustardy bite and acidity) and the apples added very little to the equation (being a bit flowery in texture and flat on the acidity front – result pretty, but pretty pointless frippery).

The mustard and maple dressing was far too sweet (cloyingly so) for my tastes (M concurred) and overpowered the rest of the dish. The garnish had wilted from the heat of the plate and none of the dressing had found its way on to it. It looked rather sad sat on the plate and tasted of nothing.

All this dish really needed with the croquette was a dollop of a much punchier celeriac remoulade. Shame they felt the need to over egg it and to seemingly add stuff for the sake of it (all a bit of a Masterchef first round dish).

M had the crab and dill cream, which came with watermelon, advocado, radish and coriander

Nice looking plate this, but to me the watermelon overpowered the crab (which should have been the star of the show – too little brown meat in the mix). I found little evidence of the promised dill or coriander from the small taste I had.

Also I do think it rather poor form to leave the seeds in the watermelon when it is covered by the crab concoction. M has to fish out quite a few seeds from her gob.

M enjoyed this dish, but I was not that enamoured and was glad I decided against it when ordering.

For my second course, I was never going to pay the supplement for the minute steak and the veggie option didn’t appeal.

Question for veggies out there – is Vicenza cheese ( I assume it is Asiago) actually vegetarian? My cursory research says no, which would mean no veggie option on the fixed price menu. Certainly be peeved about that, if that is the case, if I was a veggie.

Notwithstanding the “Is it veggie or not?”, I wasn’t taken with the veggie option and this left me with the choice of cod goujons or the chicken curry.

As M called shotgun on the goujons, I went for the curry.

Whilst this looked very pretty, it was all very much on the safe side in terms of spicing and heat. I don’t mind a mild (heat wise) curry as long as the spicing is there. Here the sauce was very tame, verging on the bland, on both counts.

The chicken had clearly just had the sauce poured over it prior to coming to the pass, with no prior marination or ability for the flavours to infuse as part of the cooking process. Whilst it was on the menu as chargrilled (which I did find odd at the time of ordering), to me, this kind of negates the whole purpose of a meat curry.

No idea where the spinach referred to in the menu description was in this dish and the sweet potato crisps were a bit of a damp squib. The jasmine rice was, however, nice.

I would characterise this as a curry dish for people who don’t really like curry, with the spicing and the depth and melding together of flavour just not being there.

M’s cod goujon dish was a big ole portion (4 large goujons in total and lots of chips) and at first sight looked promising.

The cod inside the batter had been cooked nicely, with a good flake, and had a nice flavour. The batter, however, was a bit flabby with some of the goujons lacking crispness (you would expect all to be consistent in a place like this). The chunky chips were nice and crispy with a fluffy interior, but needed a good douse of salt and vinegar on them (they were seriously lacking in salt). There were, however, salt and pepper pots on the table to allow for self administration, so this was easily remedied.

Odd that they couldn’t be arsed to de-seed the watermelon yet were worried enough about pips in the lemon to wrap it in muslin.

On the plus side it was not a bad tartare sauce (nice and tart), with capers and gherkins,

which M shamefully scorned for mayo (ok) and ketchup (😱).

M ‘s view was this dish was too big for a two course lunch and she said she would have been happy to sacrifice one of the goujons (for an appropriate price reduction). I though some mushy peas would have been a welcome recompense for the suggested paring back of the goujons. Instead the only greenery was the same rather sad and undressed garnish that came with my starter.

We passed on dessert – on cost and nothing took our fancy grounds.

In summary, everything we had was perfectly edible, but nothing really excited the taste buds.

The drinks

First off, it is great that they have a PX from Bodegas Alvear (classy producer – their Fino Capataz is stonkingly good and is sold in Curado Bar at the bar and in the deli I think ) in the D.O Montilla- Moriles (where all the wines, not just the sweeties, are made made using the Pedro Ximinez grape) on the list.

They, however, totally lose all brownie points for this by referring to it as a sweet sherry. Sweet it may be, but it bloody well isn’t sherry. It is produced over 221km from the Sherry Triangle and not, by law, allowed to be called sherry (mainly because it isn’t).

The Montilla Morilles D.O. and producers in it (Mr. SF and I visit the area – just south of Cordoba – a few years back) works very hard to making their distinct wines, which are not sherries, and calling them as such is just lazy from an organisation, such as the Ivy, that has no excuse from getting basic stuff like this wrong. This sort of thing peeves me immensely.

The wine list is actually not that bad with the actual sherries on it being decent enought (I am a big fan of the La Guita “En Rama” manzanilla on the list) and the MM wine is a very good one.

The measures are not too bad either, with both the dry ones and sweeties at 100ml.

The wider wine list is fulsome in nature and cover pretty much all bases. Mark ups, at first sight, don’t seem to be too outrageous (at least by UK standards). There is at the lower end (price wise) a Cuarto Rayas Verdejo from Rueda (decent wine – if you like sauv. blanc you will probably like this) for £26 (it retails at £8.95)

and a garnacha from Bodegas Bhilar in Navarra (underrated wine region living in the shadow of Rioja) for £27 (it retails for £9.70).

At the top end, the mark ups seem a bit leery to me with the Nyetimber 1086 2009 on the list at £280 (retails at under £130) and the Barola Vietta Ravena 2014 on at £360 (again retails at under £130 a bottle).

These top end prices seem a bit gougey to me (a margin of £230 + on the Barola seems a tad ambitious) and I wonder how much of this sort of stuff they will actually shift.

There is a short by the glass list

which doesn’t really excite much. In these days of Coravins it should be bigger and better in my opinion.

It was working day lunch so I was looking only at a soft drink and the prices seem very high, with a price tag of £3.50 for a Coca – Cola (you can get a six pack at Tesco for £3.00, so that is one hell of mark)

Odd pricing as London Essence drinks (200ml) are only 25p more than the coke, yet retail at considerably more.

Aggressively high soft drinks mark ups are another pet peeve of mine.

I ordered the Ivy’s homemade Ginger beer (well I thought I did) and when it arrived

I commented to M that it didn’t taste very homemade and seemed more like Canada Dry. When the bill arrived the charge for it was £3.50 rather than the £4.75 for the homemade stuff, so I assume I got the Fevertree stuff on the list.

In hindsight, I suspect my instructions on ordering were a bit vague, but clearly my ramping up of the wine tastings I attend is bearing fruit in training my palate 😁.

M had a London Essence rhubarb and cardamon cola (£3.50),

which she enjoyed.

The Verdict

It’s nice inside, but to me that isn’t enough of a reason to go to a place that serves food and drink. Ambience is one thing, but it has to be backed up with food (and drink) that makes you want to come back. Here the offering on the food front is pretty regulation.

The bill was just over £46 (service automatically added – another pet peeve of mine).

A bit steep for a lunch and to me on the food front it is all a bit “fur coat and no knickers”. What you get just doesn’t compare very well as against the fixed price competition from the likes of Asador 44, Heaney’s, the Potted Pig, Milkwood and the Classroom to name but a few.

Everything is presented very nicely and the staff are all lovely, but the food lacks pazazz. Flavours are all a bit flat and those things that make for oohs and aahs I have come to expect from Cardiff’s top kitchen were missing.

I think the food in this place takes a bit of a back seat and I suspect if the quality of the food is your top criteria you will come away a bit disappointed.

To me it has to be the other way around, with food always the clear focus. I, however, am fully aware that that is not the case for everyone.

Would I go back? Probably not, if I had to pay (i.e. not a work do – I think I am going back there for one of those this month – not my choice).

It is OK, but on the food front there are way better places to spend my hard earned cash in Cardiff both in the City centre and outside in the burbs.

In the City centre, a choice between here and Asador 44 for wording day lunch is a total no brainer. Asador 44 everytime for me.

The details

Address: 69/70 St David’s, Cardiff,
CF10 1GA

Tel: 02922338940

Website: Click here

Twitter: ?

Instagram: @theivycardiff

Opening times : Mon – Fri : 08.00 – 01.30, Sat : 09.00 – 01.30 and Sun: 09.00 – 01.00