Lady Barbara Judge discovers a seriously impressive culinary oasis at The Ivy Chelsea Garden…
It is rare that I am so blown away by a restaurant that I go there on two successive evenings, just to try all the different choices and to have a reality check on my overwhelming enthusiasm. Yet, that was the case last week when I dined at The Ivy Chelsea Garden, just down on the Kings Road right in the middle of that fashionable Chelsea neighbourhood. This is a particularly fortunate location because, for some unknown reason, this area is basically bereft of notable restaurants, even though there is actually a very serious potential clientele.
So, against this barren dining background, The Ivy Chelsea Garden has made a grand entrance, and it was instantly apparent that grand success will shortly follow. Indeed, it already has! The crowning glory is the décor. The plan of the restaurant is that of a very big English garden. The layout and inspiration is, indeed, pictured on the back cover of the extensive menu.
There are three inside garden dining rooms, which extend back off the street to a real very large outdoor garden filled with flowers and ferns, and crisply laid tables with white linen and a pretty bar that is almost hidden under the trees. I am told there are plans to build an orangerie out there for private parties (to which I hope to be invited!).
Pretty as a picture
I believe this ‘pretty as a picture’ place would be a hit based only on its décor and location, even without the delicious food – but, fortunately
for us, it has that too, and in great measure.
I was dining with my close friends, Anna and Fred Vinton. I met them the first week I came to London to live and, as we all recalled, it was love at first sight (at least for me). Enough of this rambling, however, they are both serious business people and it is rare that we can all get together for a night off.
I now must get back to the food. The menu, as I have previously indicated, is interesting and extensive, and it includes breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner offerings for all-day dining delights. We were in the mood for comfort food, so we carefully chose the crispy duck salad (which was delightfully reminiscent of the one I have always loved from Caprice (the older sister restaurant of The Ivy Chelsea Garden). We also had the prawn cocktail, which was perfectly prepared – and, like the crispy duck, was an old friend.
Continuing the comfort food theme, I had a perfectly cooked cheeseburger, with all the trimmings, and Anna had the Chelsea Garden fish cake, with creamed spinach and a soft poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Could anything be more comfortable than that! Fred, however, asserting his masculinity, had a sirloin steak, which was perfectly prepared and pleased him very much.
For me, however, all these courses were only a prelude to the real attraction, which was clearly the dessert – and what a fabulous finale it was. My dark treacle tart with caramel cream ice cream was excellent, but was topped by Anna’s milk chocolate parfait with caramelised bananas and glazed pecan nuts. The chocolate was a wonderful consistency – somewhere between mousse and cake, and very near to heaven. For theatricals, however, Fred’s chocolate bombe won the prize. This was a generous ball of vanilla ice cream with a honeycomb centre, surrounded by milk foam and salted caramel sauce, all covered by chocolate which had been poured over the ice cream and had quickly hardened, or so it seemed. The surprise came when, upon touching this chocolate coating with a fork, the whole thing melted luxuriously into the ice cream. Appropriately served in a big bowl, it was almost as much of a pleasure to watch, as to eat.
Actually, we loved them all, and on reflection would have been happy to have tried the rest of the tempting treats on the dessert menu, if reality had not reared its ugly head with the thought of my scales over which I would clearly be weeping the next morning.
So, sanity triumphed, and we rolled home – safe in the knowledge that we would return – and return – and return, to this beautiful, botanic, neighbourhood garden.
Congratulations to all those involved, this is clearly a winner for you and for us – and we have been waiting a long time for a culinary oasis to appear in our own back garden.
Lady Barbara Judge is currently the chairman of the Pension Protection Fund in the UK, and has held many posts across the corporate and charitable sector, including commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Barbara has always had an abiding love for food, and her frequent international business travels have enabled her to indulge this passion in many top restaurants across the globe. (Lady Barbara Judge pays all of her own expenses.)