Samurai Warriors and A Bite To Eat at Ivy Asia, St Paul's
You know a place is happening when your teenager declares they want to tag along to lunch with you after hearing of the venue.
Still, a little of me wondered, is it that the restaurant is happening, or am I now finally hip and no longer the embarrassing parent?
An opportunity not to be missed, I'm dialling the restaurant to increase our table seating to three. But as Ivy Asia St Paul's is hip hop and happening; the restaurant is already fully booked for lunch.
Ivy Asia is part of The Ivy Collection covering Ivy Brasseries and Ivy Cafes and is related to such restaurant royalties as The Ivy, 34 Mayfair and the infamous Scott's.
As yours truly is yet to grace a table at The Ivy, I'm short-changed to declare how ivy-Esque Ivy Asia is.
Though once you've got past their psychedelic green floors, up the stairs past samurai warriors twice as tall as you, got over the dragon murals around the ceiling to sit at your table, you may think - a little Sexy Fish.
But that's ok; they too are related.
Exactly two weeks prior, I'd passed its vibrant entrance and, seduced by its trendy decor, booked a table for two. I've become wary of such bewitching venues. Restaurants and cafes with more cherry blossoms than Kyoto in spring; charging a cup of coffee at prices near equivalent to the daily congestion charge for the privilege, but delivering coffee of no taste relation.
I digress but only a little, but here I am.
At 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon, the venue is packed. The atmosphere buzzy, but doesn't border on raucous. Not since Coya have I encountered such a buzz around a restaurant. Except at Coya, there was some anticipation of it. Here there wasn't. I'm also unprepared for the sheer size of the restaurant. Tables for lunch, indeed a sell-out; it feels mobbed like a staff canteen. However, its trendy decor starves it from being so.
There's a live DJ, house music playing on the cheesy dip side. It hovers over the crowd like a cloud over a mountain before it rains. Repetitive, harmless, disappointingly un infectious to the gathering or me.
From our table, eyes are drawn out the glass sided walls to the dome of St Paul's, an attention-seeking pink blossom tree behind me. For once, I'm undecided about what I want to eat. Small plates, large plates, beef, meat, house specialities, sushi and sashimi. I take comfort in looking at tourists walking around St Paul's dome.
But since our seats weren't simply viewing platforms, we got on with the work of selecting our bites to eat.
Prawn Tempura, soft shell crab, a crispy duck salad and King Oyster Skewers unhurriedly made it off the menu. The latter, the waiter declares, is vegetarian. Mr PWT and I look at each other then back to the menu. It had taken us this long to get this far, so we stick with our decision.
The kitchen may have anticipated our selection as the said dishes are with us in an incredibly good time for how busy the restaurant is. Eyes fall to the soft shell crab, lips moisten at the duck salad, but the brain says pick up a skewer.
The sharing plates concept continues here; you know I'm all for this.
A look at the King Oyster Skewer, and I wonder how many times the waiter has had to make his declaration. Charred Padron peppers in between chunks of king oyster mushrooms, crowned under cashew nuts for a crunch. Though it was the rich salty-sweet flavour of the miso sauce it came in that made this dish delightful.
Flavoursome. The crispy duck salad with generous portions of moist, crispy duck combined with zesty pomegranate and fresh mango dressed in a mouthwatering ponzu sauce. A colourful and exciting dish to look at, delivering mouthsful of the same excitement.
Gratifying. Six juicy prawns are served on an oblong dish in a crispy, light tempura batter with a chilli lime and coriander dip.
Showstopping. The Soft Shell crab, Nuoc Cham, is the showstopper here (I see now why it's listed under the 'For The Table' section), calling attention away from St Paul's dome to its presentation on the table in a silver metal dish. Whose shape, except for the crab's legs hanging out, distinguishes not from the shape of the crab itself. Unrestrained in its presentation, this showstopper stopped short of being a fine example of the dish it looked to be.
I'm pleased we ordered this less as I feel a little heavier than I weigh. I put that down to the meal the night prior. Still, I sip on my Rose of the Orient, reminding me of a certain sparkling pink cranberry drink and cast my eyes over the dessert menu.
The WARM PASSION FRUIT & COCONUT DOUGHNUTS with YOGHURT DIPPING Sauce catches attention. Though not mine.
These six doughnuts, light and fluffy on the plate, looked a lot. Subtly sweet with the taste of the passion fruit lingering towards the end, in practice finished far too quickly, I agreed to share.
Then became unrestrained myself, ordered the Sphere. More PASSION FRUIT in a White Chocolate sphere in YUZU FOAM and CARAMEL Sauce.
The warm buttery caramel over the cold velvety foam and the sweet crunch of the white chocolate, a mouth-filling sensation. Though I wouldn't say anymore, only let the video below do the talking.
Is this passion fruit and white chocolate, warm caramel sauce, speaking to you?
Of course, restrooms in these venues have their own swag. I couldn't pass on sharing this photo. Captured in the gents by Mr PWT. Would you share a cubicle with him?
Ivy Asia's first-floor setting, looking across to St Paul's Cathedral, is one of its selling points. Another is its trendy decor, chilled atmosphere. The food saves it too, a good example of Asian fusion cuisine.
And the bill, surprisingly, moderately priced and less Sexy Fish on your pocket.
That being the case, whom would you have tag along with you to Ivy Asia, St Paul's?
Good For: Dining out with a bunch of friends or a friend, younger and older members of the family, date lunch, celebrations, trendy restaurant
Website: Ivy Asia St Paul's
Address: 20 New Change, London, EC4M 9AG