Twelve hours of starvation, a 5.30 wake up and, waiting for me, a pair of over-sized nappy-esque translucent paper knickers. Having first been warned of the potential risk of losing sensation in my mouth possibly forever, I was then choked by a mask pumping sickly sweet anaesthetic into my lungs, and my jaw was ripped into. Drilled brutally into five pieces and followed by a thorough excavation, there was not even a remote chance of the tooth fairy visiting to collect my wisdom tooth. The drugs they gave me were stomach-writhingly potent – strong enough to crush even my most resilient characteristic: hunger. Still, the thought of lunch the next day at Richard Caring’s freshly opened Ivy Market Grill, sister of London establishment, The Ivy, was enough to keep me going. The timing couldn’t have been worse: by Sunday morning my face had swollen to such an extent that I had to perfect a combo of Quagmire of Family Guy, and Debbie from The Wild Thornberrys, the Debbie hair curtain deployed to conceal the Quagmire jawline. The menu which I had pored over numerous times in admiration was restricted dramatically – only food that could fit through the 0.5cm letterbox that my mouth had become was a possibility. I was also doubled over in pain from the stomach-eroding drugs the doctor had supplied. Battling valiantly through all these obstacles, I made my way to Covent Garden. Following the success of Caring’s all-day restaurant chain, Côte, another all-day brasserie must have appeared to be a logical step. With its grand Parisian brasserie feel, elegant yet comfortable, the verbal and physical resonances of its well-established Soho sister are evident. To start: pumpkin with black truffle soup (I only just resisted asking for a straw). It was presented with the flourish and drama one would expect at a top end location – a neatly balanced pumpkin ravioli surmounting pumpkin puree scattered with crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds was flooded with a sweet and truffle-rich pumpkin soup. I have yet to visit a restaurant with any pumpkin dish rivalling those of Caecilius, a host featured in the epigrams of Latin poet, Martial, who pushes the gourd creatively to its very limits (see below) . I long to try the thousand variations-on-a-pumpkin degustation that Caecilius prepares, but have so far been let down by London restaurants in this respect. Clearly, I shall have to honour the Roman myself. In the case of the Ivy Market Grill, pumpkin four ways went some of the way both in texture and flavour. I tried some of my dining companion’s winter salad (shaved apple, hazelnuts, golden raisins and celery with a stilton dressing) albeit a pathetically small mouthful with obvious constraints applying. It, too, was highly refined, refreshing both to look at and in its sweet salty flavour. At this point I realise the review should be dedicated to the dentally challenged with whom I now sympathise. Alongside its impressive vegetarian selection, I also deem the restaurant false–tooth friendly. The risotto was perfectly al dente (or more appropriately alla mancanza di dente), the flavours well balanced – umami with comforting autumnal warmth. The portion was on the generous side too. The roasted heritage carrots with parsley were delicious: perfectly honeyed and tender. One of my companions ordered the zucchini fritti, which I managed to taste. Thin and crisp and ridiculously light, one day I’ll return for more. The chargrilled Banham half chicken, with maître d’hôtel butter and thick cut chips was also a hit according to my dining companions, as was the baked open ravioli with spinach, peas, broad beans, creamed ricotta and basil. Unfortunately, the quinoa, avocado and mixed leaves making up the salad element of the grilled chicken salad were overly salted, but our waitress, Alexandra, was quick to make up for the error. With the quality of food otherwise good, I can only imagine that this was a first week opening blip. Dessert ensued. And, naturally, I ordered the melting chocolate bombe. Soft and soupy, it complied with the surgeon’s orders exactly. The thick, hot and rich salted caramel melted the chocolate exterior, drenching the plate with milk foam, vanilla ice cream and honeycomb. The surprise element, popping candy, kept me entertained for a while. I never usually seek out sorbet at a restaurant but I couldn’t refuse when my dining companion offered me some of his - doctor’s orders of course. The blood orange was sublime, the flavour both acutely sharp and sweet. Refined flavours, unfussy food, delightful served, and a warm, comfortable atmosphere, the Ivy Market Grill does not, in my opinion, dilute the brand; rather it strengthens it. It’s an all-day restaurant, and yes, I would happily spend all day dining there.
Martial, Epigrams XI.XXXI. On Caecilius. Caecilius, a very Atreus of gourds, tears and cuts them into a thousand pieces, just as if they were the children of Thyestes. Some of these pieces will be placed before you to begin with as a relish; they will appear again as a second course; then again as a third course. From some he will contrive a dessert; from others the baker will make mawkish patties, cakes of every form, and dates such as are sold at the theatres. By the art of the cook they are metamorphosed into all sorts of mincemeat, so that you would fancy you saw lentils and beans on the table; they are also made to imitate mushrooms and sausages, tails of tunnies and anchovies. This dextrous cook exhausts the powers of art to disguise them in every way, sometimes by means of Capellian rue. Thus he fills his dishes, and side dishes, and polished plates, and tureens, and congratulates himself upon his skill in furnishing so many dishes at the cost of a penny.