Here's what Gordo liked about Manchester’s latest shiny new opening... and what he really, really didn’t
Now ladies and gentlemen, if you’re thinking of going to the newly opened ‘Ivy Collection’ here in Manchester, expecting to be sat next to Joan Collins, or even Sir Michael Caine, then you’re going to be very disappointed.
You won’t, however, be disappointed by the building, nor the interior - Gordo loves it. It's been built by the multi-billionaire property developer and writ-wielding, surfboard-botherer Mike Ingall (aka Mingall the Merciless to his downtrodden tenants, including Gordo), slap bang in the middle of his crowning glory: the Spinningfields estate.
Now Dick, don’t be naughty, show some interest in your customers rather than your balance sheets
Richard ‘Dick’ Caring, the man who bought the original Ivy about ten years ago, has since, in American terms, been busy ‘squeezing the asset’. Twenty-five have opened across the UK this year. He’s decanted yet another iteration of his Ivy brand into Mingall’s latest building, The Pavilion in Hardman Square.
Dick has previous form at ‘rolling out’ restaurants, including Strada, Côte and Bills - which he still owns, turning the original two, very hip Brighton restaurants into 80-odd soul destroying venues today, including the drab (and empty) Bill's on John Dalton Street. You'll recognise it by the tumbleweed rolling out the front door.
A visit earlier this year to one of Caring’s new ‘Ivy Collection’ sites in Covent Garden, to find out what we could expect in Manchester, didn’t fill the Fat One with confidence. Neither did the first review of the new Ivy in Leeds published on Confidential last month. Indeed, the reviewer was sent back a second time by the editor to make sure that his first "woeful" experience wasn't just a blip. The second time turned out to be worse, so we published it.
Entry to the glorious building in Spinningfields is past a large fire pit keeping a couple of doormen in radio active-green garb warm and toasty. Gordo arrived on the first day of fully paid service with three Confidential writers; Ruth Allan, Deanna Thomas and David Blake, plus three ‘outsiders’; greengrocer Lucy Noone-Blake, Siobhan Hanley of Manchester Food and Drink Festival and Thom Hetherington of the Northern Restaurant and Bar Show.
We were booked to dine on the top floor in the Roof Garden. It’s not as high as 20 Stories, but a great deal plusher.
The original Ivy became well known for its eclectic menu, lobster sat alongside a shepherd’s pie, alongside a curry. Foie gras brushed shoulders with steak and kidney pudding, and a sublime calves’ liver and bacon. All of which Dick has decided we Northern Mouth Breathers don't deserve.
Bizarrely, this particular menu is a near copy of almost every restaurant, bar and grill menu you’ve seen in Manchester over the past sixteen years. But is the food any better?
Nibbles were zucchini fritti; crispy courgettes fries with a lemon, chilli and mint yoghurt (£5.75), and truffle arancini (£5.50). Both were enjoyable. Gordo was getting all excited.
Then the starters. Tempura prawns with salt and pepper squid (£8.75) were a bargain and terrific. The aioli dip was bang on with a dollop of chilli sauce in the middle. The tempura wasn’t really tempura, but satisfyingly crunchy all the same.
Blakey's citrus ponzu marinated yellow fin tuna (£9.95) was the best of the bunch, a mouthful of that made Gordo smile. Deanna’s steak tartar (£9.25) was described as "pretty decent".
Unlike the original Ivy, fish and shellfish aren’t abundant. Instead of Dover sole, it’s the ubiquitous sea bass (£22.95); crispy skin, firm bright flesh with a saucing of smoked aubergine and tomato pesto. Good, but then ruined with the roughly chopped addition of tomato, olive, shallot and coriander.
Deanna had a whole lobster with garlic butter and chips (£34) because she knew there wouldn’t be much room for error. She was right.
Gordo chose slow cooked lamb shoulder (£17.25), which came sat on a bed of smooth mash and described as having a herbed crumb with a touch of Dijon mustard, turned carrots, swede and a rosemary sauce. It wasn't clear which part of the lamb shoulder this accountant-inspired, portion-controlled, small, weak lump of mediocrity came from. It was dry and fatless, no sticky skin or sinew, no lovely crunch. Wherever it had been cooked, it wasn’t with care, unless chef’s intention was to strip out any personality.
Now Dick, don’t be naughty, show some interest in your customers rather than your balance sheets.
Blakey described his chicken Milanese, ‘brioche crumbed chicken breast with a fried egg, Parmesan cheese, truffle creamed sauce’ (£15.95) as ‘half a notch up from Bird’s Eye’. Gordo took a bite and agreed, adding that the truffle cream clashed horribly with the Parmesan. Sickly.
During lunch with his pal, Andy Spinoza, in the downstairs brasserie a couple of days later, smoked salmon was sliced geometrically perfect, yet too thin and therefore tasteless. Fatty was unsure what the blob on top was, until someone later pointed out that it wasn’t a bland celeriac remoulade, but crab. Crab. Really?
Now, a hamburger shouldn’t give cause for concern, surely? The ‘Ivy Hamburger’, 'chargrilled in a potato bun with mayonnaise, horseradish ketchup and thick cut chips' (£14.25) did. The potato flour bun was stale and tasteless, the patty was overcooked and dry as a bone. And the cheeky bastards charge an extra £1.50 for a slice of ‘West Country cheddar’ which is thinner than a McDonald's cheese slice, without the personality. Even the chips were crap.
The puddings didn’t produce a Fergie-time winner either. Rum baba (£8.75) was appalling and smelled a bit, but not of rum. Gordo liked his ‘apple tart fine’ (£8.25), though it probably arrived frozen. Gordo once won a cooking competition using the same trick. But the insipid ice cream was chosen by that accountant again.
Is it fair to review The Ivy Spinningfields so early? Yes. They’re taking full money and have a literal army of supplementary opening crew on the job. Plus it's owned by Southern Robber Barons. Would Gordo go back? Yes, because the building is superb, the staff are top pros, and two out of three ain’t bad.
The trick here is to fuck the main courses right off and ask for the apple tart without the ice-cream. If he didn't know the head chef so well, Gordo might even assume a load of this stuff was arriving on the back of a chilled truck.
According to reports, Dick has been spotted on the road back to London riding a white horse and wearing a mask, stopping only to rob a couple of nice old ladies for some sport.
The Ivy Spinningfields, The Pavilion, Byrom Street, Spinningfields, M3 3HG
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Prawn cocktail 6, zucchini fritti 7, arancini 7, tempura prawns 7.5, tuna carpaccio 8, steak tartare 6, sea bass 5, lamb shoulder 2, chicken Milanese 4, burger 3, crab linguini 3, rum baba 2, apple tart 7 (8.5 without the wimpy ice-cream)
All staff great, and plenty of 'em
Can't fault it