Restaurant Review: Celebrate the Christmas season at The Ivy St Albans Brasseries
There are definitely some tastes which are intrinsically associated with Christmas: the sharp tang of cranberry sauce, the rich spices of mince pies, the comforting sweetness of eggnog and the hint of cinnamon and cloves in mulled wine.
By capturing these festive flavours on their new menu, accompanied by suitably tasteful decorations throughout the restaurant, The Ivy in St Albans is going all-out to bring Christmas to the senses this season.
Invited along to try some of these special offerings for ourselves, my partner and I started off our evening with samples of the limited-edition cocktails, just to get us properly in the Yuletide mood.
We chose a Roasted Chestnut Julep, which combines Monin chestnut syrup, Maker's Mark bourbon, lemon juice and sugar syrup, and a traditional Mulled Cider, which featured double jus, Aspell mulled cider, brown sugar, star anise, orange twists, clove, chocolate bitters and a cinnamon stick.
In decidedly different ways, both evoked the spirit of Christmas, leaving a warm glow inside which set us up perfectly for the meals ahead, for which we ordered a bottle of the Chilean Merlot as accompaniment.
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For my starter I picked the jackfruit and peanut bang bang salad, which came with chayote, Chinese leaf, mooli, crispy wonton, peanuts, sesame seeds and coriander. This was my first sampling of jackfruit, and as a vegetarian chicken substitute its moist texture worked well alongside the crunch of the peanuts and the crispness of the salad, and the spicy satay-style sauce was packed with punch.
My partner opted for the Ivy Cure smoked salmon and crab, which included a quenelle of crab and dill cream, lemon and dark rye bread.
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She said: "It was a lovely combination and the crab was lovely and creamy, complementing the delicate flavour of the salmon and bread perfectly. Clearly a popular dish as I saw lots going past with the waiters throughout the evening!"
Her main was the special: turbot on the bone with brown shrimp and samphire.
She said: "I was torn between a couple of dishes, but think I made the right choice! A generous piece of turbot with plenty of shrimps, cooked perfectly, I could have licked the plate!"
Always keen to try different dishes whenever I visit The Ivy, for my main course I opted for something I felt complimented my starter: the aromatic duck curry. This is a coconut-based Keralan sauce with chilli, choy sum, sweet potato and jasmine rice, and was pretty much faultless. It's definitely a dish I will break all of my rules for and choose again.
To finish, my partner had the melting chocolate bombe, which had a honeycomb centre and was served with a vanilla ice cream and hot salted caramel sauce.
She said: "I usually skip this course, but I couldn't resist this. It's not too filling, but equally feels decadent, as the rich chocolate and honeycomb combined perfectly with the flamboyant execution of the salted caramel sauce."
For my dessert, I chose Santa's Buckle, a scrumptious mix of Christmas pudding mousse, brandy ice cream and caramel sauce in a chocolate shell, which offered the perfect ending to a particularly fine festive meal.
You can always guarantee The Ivy will deliver exceptional food on every visit, but the restaurant's other real selling point is just how special you feel, no matter the time or occasion, as the frankly remarkable staff go out of their way to recognise the value of every single customer. You really do feel spoiled after a night out! And yes, perhaps a little bit merry!