Test Driving the Ivy Asia - an instant hit arrives in St Paul's

roomYes, that floor is indeed glowing. 

What can you tell us about The Ivy Asia?

As you might be able to tell from the name, it's the latest from The Ivy group of restaurants (itself part of Caprice Holdings). They have been expanding all over the country with Ivys appearing in numerous towns and cities. But The Ivy Asia is a slight diversion for them. There was one Ivy Asia before this (in Manchester) but this restaurant overlooking St Paul's is really the biggest showcase for the offshoot. We'd say that while the Ivys all over town are more affordable (and accessible) versions of the original, this is a more affordable and accessible version of their Sexy Fish restaurant.

What does that mean in practice?

They're serving an Asian-inspired menu in a room that has much more of a party vibe than the other Ivys - in some ways, it's closer to the vibe of The Ned, just down the road. We know that won't be everyone's cup of tea and if you're after authentic Asian cuisine, this certainly isn't the first place you'd look. But the food is good and the room is undeniably spectacular. 

Where is it?

It's taken over the space from Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa, near St Paul's tube which means it has that amazing view overlooking the cathedral. The main entrance is down at the front of the One New Change shopping centre on New Change itself. Can't find it? Just look for the bloke in full Samurai warrior kit. 

Back to that room, then...

So yes, if you've been to the former Barbecoa, you'll know that the restaurant's previous biggest selling point was its view of Christopher Wren's masterpiece. Many restaurants would have been happy to capitalise on that view - but The Ivy Asia has gone further, way further. First of all, there's the underlit floor of semi-precious stone, which you can see in the photos above - it looks quite spectacular in person. Then you combine that with the ornate ceiling, the general OTT decor and a really impressive-looking private dining room which you can see below. Subtle it is not. 

Remember that the Jamie Oliver restaurant only closed in May - the scale of the transformation in six months is quite astonishing. 

roomIt may not have the floor - but the private dining room is still very impressive-looking. 

So should we head to the bar for a drink first?

If you're early enough, yes. But the spaces at the bar were already full before we arrived at around seven and we didn't see a free space all night long. So if you're thinking of meeting up for a pre-dinner drink, there's the rooftop bar at Madison (although that might be even harder to get into - the clipboard folk weren't particularly popular when we tried to take the lift) or the Four Sisters Townhouse around the corner. 

And where should we sit?

If you can get them. the best places are definitely alongside the restaurant, looking out at the cathedral - although frankly only half of you will actually have the view with the rest looking back into the room. There are a few corner seats which you should grab if you can get them.

Onto the food - what can we expect?

it's split into snacks ("for the table"), sushi and sashimi and small dishes including tempura, dumplings and skewers. Then there's the "large dishes" section which covers seafood, meat, vegetables and a separate section devoted to beef. So there's a lot to go through here. We ordered about 2-3 dishes at a time and they came extremely quickly in a heaving room. Then you'll have more time to judge your appetite. Some of the dishes are marked as "spicy" but if you've had authentic spicy Szechuan food, you'll note that the heat been dialled back a bit. 

Prices are mid-range, similar to one of the newer Ivys (i.e. not the original) if you've been to them and portions are generous. Given the opulence of the room and the location, we'd say that it represents good value. 

Here's what we had on the night:

roomSnow crab roll, (£11.50) - nicely made and plenty of sweet crab in there.

roomPopcorn shrimp, spicy creamy sauce (£8.95). These were excellent, we could have snacked all night on them. Note another close look at that floor below (along with comments of "you'd better not drop that" while taking the pic). 

roomGrilled salmon skewers, sesame glaze (£7.50 for 2) and a look at the view from the restaurant.

roomSteamed prawn dumpling, miso foam (£7.50). Photo taken a millisecond before it dropped back into the bowl. We're blaming the foam, not our terrible chopsticks technique. Note, we've heard very good things about the black truffle prawn and pork dumplings with gold. They sound a bit blingy, but they were all gone by the time we ordered at 7.30pm. So if you really want those - come early.

roomDuck, lobster & lychee rice (£22.50) - generous portions of both duck and lobster and a nice bit of heat.

roomSlow-cooked pork belly, Asian barbecue sauce (£14.95). We loved this - it's very good value for the money and easy to share among two.  

What about vegetarian dishes?

There are plenty throughout and marked as vegetarian or vegan, depending on your preference. Main dishes include Mongolian cheese, peanut & curry leaf (£10.50) and laksa with fermented bamboo, green tea noodles, choi sum, coconut & peanuts (£10.50). We also loved this vegetarian bao:

roomCrispy tofu bao bun, miso mayo yuba (£6.95). And another chance to see that view out the back...

Anything else?

We didn't get to the beef section, which includes dishes like "Blackened striploin USDA prime with black garlic (230gm, 8oz, £39.50)" or "Wagyu beef tataki, pickled vegetables (120gm, 4oz, £48.00). We also missed off the sides, but what we ate above was more than enough - particularly with that duck and lobster rice in the mix.

What about dessert? 

We have to admit, although the dessert portions were again generous, this was the least successful part of the meal. We'd advise making the most of the main menu rather than saving room for dessert. 

roomCherry parfait, dark chocolate and candy floss (£9.25) - looks great, but the lack of proper candy floss was a little disappointing. Sorry. 

And how about drinks?

It's worth a look at the cocktail menu, although it was a mixed bag when we ordered.

The Dragonball cocktail (£9.75) was pretty great. That's "Dragon fruit “Dragonballs” on a Tiki-style blend of Havana Club 3-Year-Old Rum, Grand Marnier, coconut purée, pineapple juice and cardamom". However, the K=Pop Passion (£11.75) which was "Absolut Vanilia Vodka, passion fruit purée, clementine juice, Fair Kumquat Liqueur and Akashi-Tai Sparkling Sake, finished with a flaming passion fruit shell" promised more than it delivered. The flaming cocktail looked great - but was alas a little emperor's new clothes. But there's a large list to choose from, with cocktails priced between £9 and £11. 

There's also a selection of Asian teas and beers as well as sake, Baiju and a large Japanese whisky section. As for wine, that starts at £24 a bottle, with a good 15 bottles under £40. This being The City, you can, of course, opt for a 1990 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac at £1300 if you like. 

Overall thoughts

Personally, we could have done without some of the particularly OTT touches like the costumed doorman and the samurai mannequin posed over a urinal in the men's loos. The restaurant is successful enough without having to go in for such gauche gimmicks. But those misgivings aside, The Ivy Asia is clearly already a barnstorming hit. 

The Caprice Group, which owns The Ivy, are clearly doing something right with their restaurants pitched at all levels. This is mid-range but done extraordinarily well. The food is good, portions are generous, service is extremely fast, and it's well priced. Yes, there are many more authentic Asian restaurants in town, but they don't look like this. People will come for the scene first - which it definitely delivers on - and good food alongside is a great bonus. The overall package here holds together and we'll have to see if they decide to roll this one out as well. 

Hot Dinners ate as guests of The Ivy Asia. Prices are correct at the time of writing. 


More about Ivy Asia, St Paul's

Where is it? 20 New Change Passage, London, EC4M 9AG

Find out more: Visit their website or follow them on Instagram @theivyasiastpauls

Book The Ivy Asia


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