Rarely is a restaurant opening as anticipated as that of Ivy Asia on Ship Street. Rumours swirled for months before construction began – and the build itself seemed to take forever. I mean, just what the hell were they doing in there?
All was revealed – in its full splendour – a couple of months ago: a riotous confection of Oriental pastiche that puts the interiors of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion to shame. If ever there were a perfect time to say a venue has the ‘wow factor’ then this is it.
From the exquisite backlit marble floor to the luxurious gold leaf ceilings, every corner of the dining room is an assault on the senses. A cherry tree in blossom here, Chinese paper lanterns there; tiled pagoda roofs and dragons galore. It genuinely has to be seen to be believed.
However, as much as I can rave about the interiors, the proof of the proverbial pudding is always in the eating so lets talk about the food. As regular readers of The Argus Taste section know, I’m always on the look out for reasonably priced menus and special offers so on my mid-afternoon visit to Ivy Asia I opted for their ‘Lunch Stack’ featuring four savoury dishes for £21.95 with the option of a dessert for £26.95.
The salmon sashimi and asparagus maki rolls made for a perfect starter and I could’ve quite happily eaten just a couple of portions of those. The temperature was perfect – definitely not straight out of the fridge as one could imagine may be the case in a restaurant of this size – and easily on par with the better Japanese restaurants in Brighton.
The star of the show is without doubt the hot and sour chicken which my dining partner, Ron, eagerly began devouring before I could snap a picture [cue impromptu re-plating]. It was relayed that all elements of the dish worked together – crispy batter, sticky sauce and decent chunks of chicken breast.
For my main I went off-piste as I didn’t want to eat gluten but there was absolutely no fuss and the chicken dish was seamlessly swapped for a shrimp and tamarind curry. This was served with rice and provided a very welcome spicy kick. The shrimp weren’t whoppers but they were definitely juicy enough. Overall this was a pretty decent and most definitely hearty dish.
In terms of portions, the side salad whilst tasty did seem a bit surplus to requirement but, hey, I guess its one of my five-a-day. It’s safe to say you would struggle leaving this restaurant and not be completely sated.
I was full to the brim but Ron – who I’d like to say has eyes bigger than his belly but that clearly isn’t the case – can always find room for a pud. In my humble opinion, the dessert on the Lunch Stack set meal – a soft serve mango ice cream with coconut and chocolate sprinkles – didn’t really sit well in the context of the meal. It was basically a pimped-up Mr Whippy for an extra fiver. I’d be inclined to say you’re better off ordering dessert from the main menu as the couple next to us had spectacular looking donuts and creme brûlée that, again, were gut-busting portions.
I should mention that the service is also pretty slick with the floor team probably being the best dressed in town. At a time when hospitality businesses are desperate for staff, this doesn’t appear to be an issue at Ivy Asia as there were plenty of bodies moving calmly and efficiently around tables. And just as importantly all of the team know the menu inside-out which surprisingly doesn’t appear to be a prerequisite at many restaurants nowadays.
I’d love to give Ivy Asia a ten out of ten but I was sad to see that there wasn’t a single local beer, spirit or wine on the drinks list. I appreciate that it’s a chain restaurant but many other multiples operating in the city have had the creativity and will to introduce at least a couple of Sussex products to their menus. It’s a shame as the bar team clearly know their stuff.
Other than that this is great food in terms of quality and portions at a pretty unbeatable price, particularly if you choose one of the promotional menus. The theatre of the venue is utterly unique. At a time when we’re all feeling a little in the doldrums with life, Ivy Asia offers delicious escapism so you can dine like a king.
Ivy Asia, 51 Ship Street, Brighton BN1 1AF