My co-editor Elle and I had dinner at The Ivy Oxford Brasserie last week, also known as one of the best nights in my life ever. It’s important to note that I, Ben Chuah, love food. I can spell it out if you’d like. I. Love. Food. I love fast food. I’m obsessed with comfort food: soups, bread, those cabbage dishes that make you feel like you’re tucked in bed in a snowy winter. I sweat a lot when I eat spicy food, but it’s a good sweat (not like when I exercise). This all sounds vaguely familiar, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve written an article with some sort of speech like this before, but it’s all for emphasis! Because the food at The Ivy was incredible; and with great service and dishes combined, the whole night was a total dining experience.
BEN: I had a bite of Elle’s Seared Atlantic scallops and she can attest that my face literally dropped because they were so fresh. They tasted like they came straight from the ocean, not briny but soft and melt in your mouth like – cliché – butter! The accompanying sauce balanced savoury and sweet tones and complimented the dish so well. I had the Lobster risotto, and it was decadent. There were pockets of sauce that somehow added crispness and creaminess to the whole dish. The morsels of lobster were small and delicious, their texture great alongside the risotto’s subtle yet substantial bite. It was an amazing start to the rollercoaster.
ELLE: I’m a sucker for scallops and couldn’t resist, thought it was almost a tie between this or the Yellowfin tuna carpaccio–I’m still curious to try the apple, jalapeño and avocado sauce that accompanies that dish. If a seafood could be a jumbo marshmallow, these scallops would be just that. They were perfectly pillowy without being too chewy. The cauliflower puree that came with it felt like more of a garnish than an flavourful addition but these scallops need no accompaniment. I also tried the Salted smoked almonds before our meal which were surprisingly elegant when served in a emerald green bowl. I normally associate hickory smoked finger foods with American BBQ but in the Ivy’s stylish setting I had no problem popping these into my mouth between sips of champagne.
BEN: There is a lot to say (adore). THE STEAK TARTARE. I could end the review here, in bold capitals. A powerful and short sentence. But where would I vent my adoration? Because I need to talk about this dish. It was presented with a deep yellow egg yolk in the centre of the red steak, like a sun in the middle of a galaxy. What I loved the most about the dish was the amount of herbs integrated within the steak. They added a crunch in texture and a refreshing note that contrasted amazingly with the salty richness of the raw steak bites. It was the perfect blend of flavour, texture, richness and substance. It lost no flavour by being raw and gained everything through simplicity. I would have it every night if I could. Emphasis on the conditional.
ELLE: The Ivy sets out to provide British comfort food with a twist, and as much as my heart longed to put the Fish & chips to the test, my gluten intolerance wouldn’t allow it. Thankfully I had no problem finding other dishes that were both safe and struck my fancy. I took note that many of the mains can accommodate allergies or dietary preferences, such as the vegetarian shepherd’s pie and Keralan sweet potato curry. Though they weren’t clearly labelled with the usual GF/V/Ve that most menus tend to have these days, patrons should have no problems figuring out which ones suit their needs and I suspect the wonderful and attentive staff would have no problem answering any questions about ingredients.
I chose the Roast fillet of salmon, unintentionally keeping with my seafood theme for the evening. It was a simple dish but all the better to vouch for the quality of the Ivy’s fish selection. Not even the tiniest bone in sight! The Champagne caper and cream sauce was light enough to not overpower the sweet meatiness of the salmon. My favourite twist of the night was the Baked sweet potato with harissa coconut “yoghurt”, mint and coriander dressing I had as a side. I’m not a big fan of mint unless it’s in chocolate chip ice cream, but I will be trying to replicate this incredible dressing as a staple in my kitchen repertoire.
BEN: The best part! My dessert, the Chocolate Bombe, literally melted in front of me and transformed a chocolate caramel ganache paradise that might as well have been wrapped with a bow. A true Christmas gift. It was sugar, no spice and everything incredible. The chocolate was rich but not heavy, and the frothy texture…heaven.
ELLE: I was very jealous of Ben’s dessert, but in the interest of proper journalistic assessment I decided not to order the same thing and went for the Blackberry ice cream sundae. Wow, move over Eaton Mess, I’ve got a new favourite meringue and cream dish. Vanilla ice cream AND blackberry mouse topped with roasted hazelnuts, a blackberry sauce and shortbread (which Ben happily enjoyed for me). I would give this a full five stars if the warm sauce had come on the side in a little pot that I could pour on my own; unfortunately the heat of it didn’t give me enough time to enjoy the complexity of the dessert before it got a bit…soupy. But that doesn’t mean that I stopped eating it! Even slightly liquefied it was delish.
ELLE: This was my second visit to the Ivy as I was fortunate enough to attend the Preview night on behalf of the Oxford Student in October. I can safely say that the Ivy Oxford knows how to throw a soiree as well as cater to parties of two. I was drawn to this restaurant for the decor with it’s tiny jungle feel (potted plants galore!) but now that I’ve tried the food I will be back for both the atmosphere and the exciting menu options. Ben and I stayed comfortably for four hours, escaping the winter dread in the Ivy’s warm, candle lit haven–the dining room was perfectly ‘Hygge’. While it wasn’t too much of an issue for me, I noticed the older couple next to us using their phone torches to read the menu, so it is a little on the dark side. The staff were happy to let us stay as long as we wanted, as one of the last few guests of the night. I can’t wait to come here for breakfast on a sunny spring day as I fully expect that to capture and compliment the essence of the space.
In a student town, the Ivy Oxford doesn’t seem like a feasible dining option for everyone but I was surprised to find the menu had options as affordable as pub food alongside its £30 steaks and £12 cocktails. On a night out or lunch with friends there are options to suit most peoples’ budget. In my earlier review I talk about the seemingly struggling High Street and it’s revolving door of establishments, but the Ivy is a welcome addition and I have a feeling they are here to stay.
Disclaimer: The meals were provided by the Ivy in exchange for an honest review.