I wasn’t invited to the grand opening of the Ivy on the Square in Edinburgh.
That is, my invitation to the celebrity-packed event never arrived – clearly an oversight – so like a mere mortal, I had to book a table in the week following.
I thought, given the reputation of its mothership in London, that a reservation might be tricky to come by. At the height of its exclusiveness, the ability to phone the maitre d’ at the original Ivy and get a table immediately was a mark of serious celeb clout.
Not so the Edinburgh outpost it seems, but then we were after a table for two at 8.15 on a Monday night, rather than a primetime see-and-be-seen Friday evening, and managed it just fine.
No celebrities graced the room, I don’t think, although I’d have trouble recognising any due to an unfamiliarity with modern popular culture and failing eyesight.
There were certainly a few glamorous diners – we even spotted a sequinned evening gown – so my companion Lizzie was relieved that she’d changed out of her ripped jeans into something more chic for the occasion.
The room certainly makes you feel like smartening yourself up with its chesterfield banquette seating, outsized paintings and murals and a gleaming bar. I thought it akin to walking into a grand ocean liner; Lizzie said it felt like New York.
Cocktails ordered, we also requested bread as neither of us wanted to disgrace ourselves by drinking on an empty stomach. That sort of behaviour could ruin many a model/actress/whatever’s career before it has even started.
My Bellini (£8.25) was fairly standard, but Lizzie’s Holyrood Spritz (£6.50) was a deliciously refreshing mix of Earl Grey gin, citrus oleo-saccharum and Cocchi Americano – specialist ingredients which elevated it beyond anything you could shake up at home.
The salt-crusted sourdough bread (£3.95) was a hit too. I’ve never been more tempted to ask to take home the remainder in a doggy bag to toast for breakfast.
For shared starters I chose a mix of wasabi prawns and salt and pepper squid (£8.75) which were well seasoned, and although I felt the batter was heavy, the shellfish inside was perfectly cooked.
Lizzie decided this was the day that she would try steak tartare, (£9.25).
Not brave enough to go for a main course portion, she ordered the starter.
As an aspiring actor, she presumably likes both drama and attention, and her starter came with both.
A small aquarium, upside down, was placed in front of her, while what seemed like the whole restaurant looked on and held its breath.
With a flourish the lid was removed and smoke wafted out, to a sigh of delight from onlookers.
The minced striploin was served raw – of course – with cornichons, shallot, egg yolk and a suggestion of Glenkinchie.
Breathing in the smoking bark really did add to the flavour experience, although I missed out a bit being on the other side of the table and therefore not getting my fair share of waftings.
I’d opted for an Ivy classic, chicken Milanese (£15.75); the brioche crumbed breast is served with a fried egg, a side salad and black truffle mayonnaise.
Again I felt the crumb was a little heavy but the chicken was tender and the truffle flavours gave a savoury whack.
The portion was very rich; this is grown-up food for hungry people but I should probably have opted for something a little lighter after a battered starter.
The other main was a triumph. Line-caught swordfish (£15.50) came with a tomato and red pepper sauce accompanied by grilled chorizo, fried Padrón peppers and basil.
Such a meaty fish holds up brilliantly against robust Spanish flavourings.
We were served by a waitress who was charming, witty and attentive, but while much is good enough to recommend the Ivy on the Square for a special occasion, the bar service on the night we visited was a let down.
We waited a long time to order drinks while bar staff attended to everyone but us.
Then having finished my cocktail before the arrival of the starter, I was halfway through the main course before a glass of wine, which we had ordered long before, arrived, and that was only after we had asked twice.
Checking the bill the next day I found that we’d been charged £9.50 per glass for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc when what we had ordered, and been given, was actually Grenache Blanc from France, at £5 a glass.
The Ivy on the Sqaure is worth a visit and certainly gets star billing for food, atmosphere and service.
As a new place there are clearly a few teething troubles, but nothing a robust manner with the wine waiter and a double check of the bill won’t solve.