In the men's toilet of The Ivy Asia St Paul's, a statue of a samurai stands in front of a urinal. Outside four antique suits of armour are dotted around the glowing green restaurant floor, the ceiling is painted with swirling dragon patterns, and drinks are served from a gold mirrored bar. To promote reservations going live acrobats performed on London’s Millennium Bridge, and 60 ‘samurai warriors’ marched the streets of St Paul’s handing out origami flowers. The Ivy Asia isn’t subtle. But can it hit the right note with customers?
Baton Berisha, managing director at The Ivy Collection, certainly thinks so. When we speak a few days ahead of launch in early November a 12 ft statue is still being constructed, and Richard Caring – chairman of parent company Caprice Holdings - has just finished giving the site a once-over, but Berisha is calmly confident.
“You don’t see any restaurants like this in London,” he says. “The demand for reservations has been amazing. I think it’s going to be very successful.”
This is the first standalone Ivy Asia, but the concept debuted inside the Ivy Spinningfields restaurant in Manchester last year. Inspired by the popularity of dishes such as crispy duck salad; and prawn tempura on the main Ivy menu, the spin-off proved so successful that it’s branching out to a c.215-cover location in London. With views onto St Paul’s, the prime site was occupied by Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa for nine years until May, when it closed with the collapse of his UK restaurant business. Any remaining ‘Jamie’ touches, and Barbecoa’s muted black and brown palette, are consigned to history.
While Caprice Holdings has spun-off the original 100-year-old Ivy restaurant in Covent Garden in to a more affordable group of Ivy Brasseries and Cafes, this feels like an attempt at an accessible version of its Mayfair celebrity-magnet restaurant Sexy Fish.
The menu is billed as ‘Asian-inspired’ and takes cues from across the vast continent. There are two afternoon express options, a £17.50 set lunch and £28.50 ‘tasting tray’, targeted at surrounding office workers.
Larger a la carte dishes include duck massaman curry with cashew nuts (£13.50); Korean fried chicken (£14.95) and a plate of Mongolian cheese with peanut and curry leaf (£10.50). There’s also a variety of sushi and sashimi; and small plates of salads, baos, dumplings and skewers (£6.75 - £12.95) including Instagram-friendly black truffle, prawn and pork dumplings with gold leaf (£10.75).
The drinks menu is extensive, with no beers over £5.75, the cheapest glass of wine costing £6, and 14 cocktails ranging from £9.50 - £12.75. Given the restaurant’s City location its unsurprising prices can rocket up at the higher-end, reaching £995 for a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label and £900 for Dom Perignon Rose.
“We’ve tried to create choices for all sorts of tastes,” says Berisha. “You don’t have to come in for a full three-course meal, you can have a dish and glass of wine at the bar and we welcome that.”
Gordon Ramsay faced criticism earlier this year when his London restaurant Lucky Cat was billed as an ‘authentic Asian eating house’ in the initial promotional material. The Ivy Asia makes no claims of authenticity, instead stating its gimmicky menus and design are ‘Asian-inspired’ and paying ‘homage to a series of pan-Asian influences including flora, fauna and mythology’.
Berisha says dishes has been developed using feedback from guests in Manchester and ‘lots of research’ by The Ivy’s team, including executive chef Simon Gregory, who previously held the same role at D&D London. The Ivy Asia St Paul’s head chef is Deepak Kotian, who spent over six years at Nobu London and helmed the kitchen at P.F Chang’s when it made its UK debut in London in 2017.
Though its design may prove divisive The Ivy Asia’s owners seem confident the brand has its place. Caprice Holdings has opened 34 Ivy Brasseries and Cafes in the UK and Ireland since 2014, so could the Ivy Asia be its next roll-out vehicle?
“I believe it could work in other cities,” Berisha says carefully. “We want to make sure we do this one right. I do think it’s going to be very successful. If there’s demand in the future, we’ll certainly consider opening in some other locations.”