We went down to check out The Ivy Asia to see if there was substance hiding behind all that style.
When I first heard that The Ivy’s middle floor was set to be an Asian restaurant, I thought it was random, to say the least. But when I went to the launch and actually saw the place, all concerns were immediately forgiven.
It is a stunning utopia adorned in gold, silk and jewel tones with plush textiles, velvet, exotic plants and a glowing emerald floor. It certainly belongs to The Ivy, don’t get me wrong, but it has its own identity which is even more beautiful, and somehow even more graceful.
One thing I really appreciated was the size and simplicity of the menu. The Ivy Asia offers a menu with five core sections (plus nibbles and sides) with five to ten options on both which is a real walk in the park compared to the gargantuan menu of the Brasserie downstairs.
I decided to go Roman style and just gorge myself on a banquet which I chose to order in waves. I began with a nibble from the ‘For the Table’ section. Tuna Sashimi Crisps with avocado and truffle (£7.29) took blue corn tortilla chips and topped them with slices of raw tuna, creamy avocado and truffle mayo.
The delicate fish and the strong yet earthy truffle was an unlikely match but certainly worked. Added texture came from a sprinkling of sesame seeds and little bursts of salt from salmon roe which was a great way to tease my appetite for things to come.
While we snacked on these, we enjoyed a couple of cocktails from the extensive menu. I opted for the Bejjing Sling (£9.50)- a delectable combination of vodka, Kishinamien Umeshi plum sake, jasmine, vanilla, lime, apple juice and plum bitters. It was refreshing, cool, floral and had summer written all over it.
Moving on swiftly to the Raw & Cured section of the menu, I thought it most fitting to go for something classic like the Sesame cured Salmon (£8.95). Singed on the outside and raw in the middle, this dish is a great buffer if you are trying to get into sashimi.
On top of that, it was delicious with thin strips of daikon (radish), cucumber and served with a black bean dressing which was full of that elusive umami flavour. Oh and more sesame seeds which I am now discovering are shaken over every dish (just in case we forgot we were eating Asian food.)
We were also advised to order the Raw Scallop (£18) which was a very ‘Ivy-ish’ and served with Oscietra caviar which is some of the most prized in the world…naturally. Just in case that wasn’t enough there was also some edible gold leaf just for good measure, which if I’m honest was completely unnecessary and brought nothing to the dish other than a bit of gimmick and a higher price.
But, with that being said, the dish was lovely. Light and made with extremely fresh king scallops – they have an incredibly delicate flavour and texture. The caviar brought a pop of salt to the dish and the bed of radish created texture which I very much enjoyed. Apart from the gold, I was a big fan.
More cocktails went alongside this wave of food. This time I opted for The Ivy Asia’s signature cocktail- the Smoked Plum Negroni (£9) which comes with the added excitement of theatre when it is unveiled from its glass dome with a puff of smoke.
Dramatics aside, the drink itself was appetizing and a welcome twist on the classic. Again sake was the base of this drink and paired with Roku gin, Kamm & son’s English Aperitivo and a dash of plum bitters, this drink really was a delight.
Tempura was the next section to tackle and the choices here were Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Kimchi Mayonnaise (£8.95) and Popcorn Shrimp (£8.95). Granted, I should have ordered a little bit less like a child that’s been given free rein, but I cannot say I was disappointed with my choices.
The chicken was everything you could imagine it was, and that kimchi mayonnaise was outstanding if you are as big a fan of the tart flavour of Korean fermented cabbage as I am. As for the prawns, again, they were delicious and smothered in a sweet spicy sauce which were greatly enjoyed. Both these dishes are just what I wanted – fried food with a sweet Asian twist.
Growing fuller by the minute, I decided to skip the steamed section and move straight on to mains. I ordered the Slow Cooked Pork Belly (£14.95) which was delicious. It came with an ‘Asian Barbeque Sauce’ which was salty, sweet and well spiced.
My only complaint was the size. This portion was a little on the small side, so I would recommend getting these as a starter because you don’t want to miss them. Smaller appetites would be perfect with this pork dish, perhaps with a side of the Kimchi Fried Rice (£4.95) and some greens on the side.
Alongside this was the Black Cod with Miso (£29.50). Now, I am a fish lover and having tried various versions of this dish at many establishments I was keen to see how The Ivy contended. In terms of flavour, it was stunning. The texture flaked off perfectly and it was simultaneously sweet from the miso and charred from the grill which resulted in a complex depth of flavour.
The only problem I had with it was the size (again), which had less to do with me being too full and more to do with the dish costing just under £30. I cannot fault the dish in its quality or execution, but I just wanted a little more.
All in all, the Ivy Asia is a spectacle and an immersive experience in a pseudo-Asian wonderland. But like I said in my last review of The Ivy, that is exactly what you are buying in for when you go. You want glitz, glamour and gold leaf on your bloody scallops while House music beats in the background and the malachite floor gently glows.
On top of that, the food is delicious, well executed and presented. The Ivy has managed to cover all the bases under the ‘Asian’ umbrella from Japanese sake, to Korean kimchi to seabass spiked with Thai herbs, so there will be something to suit everyone’s tastes.
I’ve got to say that the service is outstanding too, to the point that you are encouraged to eat and drink to your heart’s content, the only downside being the length of your bill when you settle up. For a treat or a celebration, The Ivy Asia should certainly be up there at the top of the list. It’s well worth splashing the cash for, but I feel that you’re paying more for the interior than the portion sizes.
The Ivy, The Pavilion, Byrom Street, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3HG
0161 503 3222