We are booked into the Ivy for lunch, that’s if you consider 2.45pm lunchtime. Such is the giddiness over the opening of the Ivy Harrogate that three days in, this is the earliest time they can offer us.
We are greeted in the tiny porch not by one, but three hosts kitted out like flight attendants in red tailored dresses, cropped cream jackets and 4in heels, falling over themselves to show us to our table. The transformation from Edinburgh Woollen Mill to opulent restaurant is spectacular. The green livery and the harlequin leaded windows reference the mother ship in Covent Garden. So, too, the mass of prints on the walls from bold abstracts to Audubon’s birds and, with a local nod, etchings of the Harrogate Pump Rooms.
Most of the 70 odd tables are taken and the bar, shimmering with back-lit bottles and glasses, has white-jacketed waiters shaking cocktails for the Harrogate glitterati.
It’s very glam. A central atrium has large urns of ferns and flowers, curved leather banquettes and all the tables look pristine in white linen. Outside are 40 more covers set in a walled garden.
The three-course lunch and early doors menu is £21, the à la carte a little cheaper than the Covent Garden flagship where the Ivy hamburger is £16.75. It pays for a battalion of staff, 125 reportedly, and they are buzzing around like blue bottles from lowly runners to officers in suits whose job on this occasion includes apologising for the half-hour wait for our first course.
When they come, the tempura prawns with green papaya and cucumber salad and matcha green tea sauce are worth the wait with the crispest, lightest batter set against good fresh crunch from the salad. Wild mushroom on toasted brioche with grated truffle and Gran Moravia cheese is as good as it sounds.
For mains we forswear the Yellowfin tuna salad (£17.95), the line caught swordfish (£15.50), the slow roast lamb shoulder (£16.95) and more from the something-for-everyone menu, to check out two of the Ivy’s most famous dishes: the Ivy Shepherd’s Pie (£13.50) and the Ivy Hamburger (£14.25).
The hamburger is fine. No more. It isn’t pink as offered, nor especially succulent but the meat is good quality and the Bloody Mary ketchup the real deal, as are the chips. The shepherd’s pie was as good as that gets outside home cooking and when it’s good, that’s very good indeed. Lamb shoulder is cooked so long and slow it has melted into an intense and warming stew topped with comforting buttery mash infused with rosemary and finished with mild Coverdale cheese. Peas and sugar snaps come as an extra at £3.25.
Puddings again are a please-all collection: chocolate cake, apple tart, crème brûlée, chocolate bombe and frozen berries with warm white chocolate sauce, a dessert I haven’t seen since the 80s. There’s more nostalgia too in the sweet trolley being pushed among tables, a selection of fudge, nougat and old-fashioned boiled sweets, 115g for a fiver.
We passed on all of the above, not that we were stuffed, but because time was ticking by on the parking ticket and lunch was seguing into afternoon tea (£25.95), with over-tanned women in cut-out-shoulder dresses attacking the crème brûlée doughnuts, sipping pink Champagne and checking their texts.
For all its mock grandeur, the Ivy’s raison d’être is offering simple, likeable, homely dishes and of course the aura of the original which has long attracted the stars of stage, screen and latterly of football pitch. We might not have spotted any celebs in Harrogate but the people watching was still fun.
Note though, the Ivy Harrogate, and soon to be York, is not the Ivy relocating north. This is a roll-out brasserie, part of the Ivy Collection, with a simpler, cheaper, pared down menu. A chain restaurant then, but impressive of its kind. Not least the approachable menu with dishes we like to eat but in elegant surroundings and staff who were eager to please, well-trained and according to our waiter, in receipt of all the 12.5 per cent “optional” service charge to the last penny.
The Ivy Harrogate, 7-9 Parliament Street, Harrogate, HG1 2QU. 01423 787100, theivyharrogate.com. Price: à la carte dinner for two inc. wine and service £90.