As The Ivy opens a new café in Richmond, Sophie Farrah explores the 100-year history of the world-famous celebrity restaurant that oozes theatreland glamour
If you’re ever in Covent Garden and happen to walk down West Street there’s bound to be a gaggle of paparazzi patiently waiting outside number five, because hidden behind the signature harlequin stained glass windows lies the long-standing celebrity haunt that is The Ivy.
Owner Abel Giandolini and Maître d’Hôtel Mario Gallati teamed up back in 1917 to open what was then a modest Italian café on the ground floor of a house nestled in the heart of London’s West End. In its original form the restaurant featured lino floors, paper napkins, one cook and no drinks licence; if a customer required alcoholic refreshment then it would fall to one of the two waitresses to nip out to the nearest pub. Oh, how times have changed.
The restaurant’s instant popularity amongst the theatre community was not down to its location alone, but was also thanks to Monsieur Abel’s willingness to send out meals to the dressing rooms of actors and actresses in between their shows. Legend has it that the restaurant’s now internationally known name in fact originates from a chance remark by the actress Alice Delysia, who overheard Giandolini apologising for the inconvenience caused by his building works. Whilst explaining that he wanted to create one of London’s finest dining rooms, the actress interjected “don’t worry, we will always come to see you, we will cling together like the ivy” – lyrics from a popular song of the time.
Some of The Ivy’s early adopters included Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Terence Rattigan and Noël Coward to name but a few. It quickly became the exclusive, theatrical institution that it is still known as today. By the outbreak of World War II the restaurant was enjoying global success, attracting everyone from Hollywood stars to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and legendary composer Puccini. Notable diners of the more modern day read like a who’s who, from Madonna, Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie to Daniel Craig, Mick Jagger and Tom Cruise.
After a no-expense-spared redesign in 2015 by the acclaimed Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, the restaurant oozes glamour. There is a gleaming central bar, curved green banquettes, an impressive art collection and – as they describe it – ‘kind lighting’. Mobile phones and cameras are forbidden anywhere in the restaurant and there is also a dress code to be adhered to (no shorts allowed and gentlemen are requested to wear jackets when sporting a short-sleeved shirt). If you’re lucky enough to get a table, then Executive Chef Gary Lee dishes up a much-celebrated, seasonal menu that mixes Ivy classics, such as their shepherd’s pie with more sophisticated dishes like yellow fin tuna sashimi.
2017 marks The Ivy’s impressive 100th anniversary and celebrations were kicked off in true celeb style by Kylie Minogue, who treated diners to an intimate performance back in December. This was closely followed by the unveiling of a Green Plaque in January, presented by Westminster City Council to buildings associated with people who have made lasting contributions during their lifetimes, in this case Abel Giandolini. A special cocktail menu has also been designed, a bespoke Ivy gin created and a selection of the West End’s finest actors are due to perform theatrical vignettes in the restaurant throughout the year.
Now, there is also cause for celebration in Richmond, too, as the The Ivy Café has recently opened its doors on Hill Street (in the former All Bar One site). Richmond joins the ranks of similar village-style London areas such as Marylebone, Wimbledon and St John’s Wood, who now all boast an Ivy Café, making up part of The Ivy Collection, a portfolio of upmarket brasseries, grills and neighbourhood cafés that aim to provide the top-notch service and vibrant surroundings for which The Ivy is known.
Paul Winch-Furness Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer
“We realised that we had the opportunity to bring the glamour and heritage of The Ivy to a wider audience, making its dishes and ethos more accessible to all,” explains Yishay Malkov, Executive Operations Director of the The Ivy Collection.
“The Ivy Collection has the heritageof The Ivy West Street, complete withthe memories and feelings that the original site evokes amongst customers, but all sites are tailored to fit their community and audience, and it’s important that we ensure each restaurant is accessible to those living, working or visiting the area.”
The first addition to The Ivy Collection was The Ivy Market Grill overlooking Covent Garden’s famous piazza, which opened in November 2014, followed shortly by The Ivy Chelsea Garden in March 2015. The Ivy Café Richmond will be their ninth location, with further sites due to open in Cobham, Marlow and The City later this year.
“Once The Ivy Market Grill opened we had confidence in the fact that as long as we stayed true to what The Ivy is and what it stands for, new openings would strengthen the brand by bringing much-loved elements of The Ivy West Street to new neighbourhoods and communities.” explains Yishay.
Intending to enhance the inclusive, neighbourhood atmosphere, a selection of tables are purposefully held back for walk-ins in Richmond, as per existing Ivy Cafés, meaning that you can pop in without a reservation whether you’re after a cream tea or cocktails, a light bite or something more substantial.
“Richmond has been on The Ivy Collection’s radar for a few years,” he enthuses. “It is a beautiful area of London with a neighbourly feel in which we felt The Ivy Collection concept would flourish. We felt that the local community and those living and working in the area would understand and appreciate our brand and what we were trying to bring to their neighbourhood.”
Paul Winch-Furness Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer
The same design studio responsible for the impressive West Street location has also been commissioned to consult on Richmond’s interiors; bold, bespoke artworks inspired by the natural landscapes of Richmond Hill and Richmond Park will complement the restaurant’s impressive onyx bar, pendant lighting, antique bronze mirrors, marble floor tiles and a mixture of burnt orange leather banquettes to sink in to, or bar stools to perch on.
“Although there are recognisable interior features and themes throughout all our restaurants, we do ensure each site has its own personality and unique elements, catering for its local audience and community,” Yishay explains.
With approximately 140 covers making up the main restaurant, bar and private dining room, The Ivy Café Richmond offers an informal yet sophisticated all-day café-style menu seven days a week, that covers breakfast, lunch, light snacks, afternoon tea, drinks, weekend brunch and dinner. Notable dishes include the tuna carpaccio with spiced avocado, lime crème fraîche and coriander shoots, the ‘HLT’ sandwich filled with grilled halloumi, avocado, black olive, red pepper, tomato and baby gem with a herb mayonnaise, and the chicken liver parfait, served with caramelised hazelnuts, pear and stem ginger compote and toasted ciabatta.
But for real West End glamour with a South West London twist, opt for a ‘Richmond Park Royale’ – Briottet Rose liqueur, Sipsmith sloe gin and hibiscus, topped with Champagne, naturally.
- The Ivy Café, Richmond (opens Wednesday April 19), 9 – 11 Hill St, Richmond, TW9 1SX. For more information, visit: theivycaferichmond.com
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