Ivy Asia Brighton

The Ivy Asia Brighton restaurant review

Having opened its doors in July this year, The Ivy Asia is an add-on to The Ivy in the Lanes, Brighton’s incarnation of the ever-growing chain of restaurants springing from the original Ivy restaurant in London’s West End. That restaurant gained fame as a haunt of celebrities from the theatre industry in the 1940s and has since expanded to over 30 off-shoots across the UK. The Ivy in the Lanes has been open on Ship Street since 2018, and now shares its building with this iteration of The Ivy’s Asian fusion sideline. Indeed, if you go the wrong direction on the way to the toilets (as I did) you will find yourself in the butter and garlic scented atmosphere of the European side.

From the moment you enter the door, The Ivy Asia is visually stunning, like a hyperreal technicolour reconstruction of a lost continent. The floor of the lobby is paved with a path of uplit red onyx, as if the restaurant has been built on a seam of precious stone, whilst the walls are covered in pictures of swirling red and gold dragons and flying fish. An ornate statue of a samurai looms in the corner, like a time-travelling security guard you half expect to ask for your ID. The staff are immaculately attired in traditional dress and immediately make you feel like you’re as important as one of the original restaurant’s VIP patrons.  

Ivy Asia Brighton

The interiors of the main restaurant are even more impressive. It expands out with the vaulted skylight giving a sense of luxurious space. The onyx floor turns a luminous green, forming an ersatz forest floor out of which seems to be growing the room’s centrepiece, a cherry tree kept in a permanent stasis of pink blossom. The bar is a glowing black and gold pagoda, the table lamp is an elephant, whilst the walls and ceilings teem with more dragons, samurai and burnished gold. It’s a riot of opulence and colour. It feels like entering another world – not just another continent but also a different, secret echelon of high society, where the rules are different. There’s even a live DJ playing some fairly pumping house music. For all the neon Tokyo futurism of it, there is also a touch of the exoticism fetish – as well as the art deco lettering – of the roaring (nineteen) twenties and the Hollywood cinematic universe that the original Ivy’s thespian diners would have been familiar with. 

The touch of theatre continues when we order cocktails. The K-pop Passion, made with vanilla vodka, passion fruit purée, orange juice and kumquat liqueur, comes topped with a passion fruit shell rippling with blue fire that our waitress spritzes with something flammable to make it puff flames like one of the dragons on the wall. It’s great fun. Who doesn’t like an element of danger to their dining experience? The cocktail is piquant and fruity with a kick, and is accompanied by a shot of Bottega Gold Prosecco on the side to cleanse the palate of any sourness. It’s not entirely clear what the K-pop element is, but I suppose they wanted to get Korea in there somewhere. The cocktail menu is made up of variations on classics, which all sound fabulous. The Yuzu Old Cuban – the waitress’s favourite, we are told – is sweet, intoxicating and aromatic, essentially doing exactly what you want a cocktail to do. 

There are quite a few different approaches one can take to the Ivy Asia menu. There’s a whole sushi and sashimi section with the “Silver Shell” and “Black Shell” platters which are most likely spectacular, and the aromatic duck for two people that the table next to us ordered which came as a tottering tower of do-it-yourself elements looked like a good time. Sharing experiences for four or six people are available for an accessible £55 or £65 per person. These include variations on all the platters. However, we went á la carte, with a selection of small and large dishes. 

As our first starter, the sesame crusted prawn dumplings were crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside, sitting in a puddle of sharp and salty ponzu, sprinkled with dried chilli, crispy garlic and spring onion, the kind of sauce you want to lick off the plate. Then, the Chinese Char Sui barbecued pork belly skewers came. The thick layer of fat on these had been persuaded no doubt over many hours of slow heat to become perfectly soft, with a dark, sticky glaze, sesame and a spicy red dipping sauce reminiscent of sriracha. Both dishes were absolutely faultless.

A slab of black cod – a meaty fish more akin in texture to red snapper than normal cod – with an unctuous miso sauce was a pleasing main with sides of steamed rice and chilli and ginger stir-fried greens. We were given a further taste of theatricality when our waiter brought over the barbeque lamb rump, which arrived covered with a glass cloche filled with smoke that he twirled off to reveal the slices of tender pink meat, leaving a lingering woodsmoke cloud. This was served with lots of crispy garlic, miso, fresh micro herbs and silky aubergine.

Barbeque lamb rump,

All the meat and fish was cooked with utter precision tonight, making it deserving of its premium price tag. If you go all out here, you’ll be looking at at least £100 a head. It is The Ivy after all. But it never felt like any corners were being cut, as can be the danger when a renowned institution is sold and expanded. At every point we were made to feel special. Even though the place was full to the brim on a Tuesday night with the DJ keeping the tunes coming, we never struggled to hear each other talk. Neither were we made to feel rushed at any point. Closing time is 12am Monday-Saturday and 11pm on Sunday, so you have plenty of leeway to take your time and savour the experience.

We ended with the Red Dragon dessert platter, which billowed dry ice from its nostrils, engulfing our waitress as she named the many constituent parts, which included vanilla ice cream laced with mochi and dusted with matcha, warm passion fruit doughnuts, peanut brittle, honeycomb, berries, coconut, chocolate sauce, even some of those little crispy chocolate balls you get in Müller Corners. It was a tasty little buffet finale that would make for a fancy, alternative afternoon high tea. 

For an immersive pushing-the-boat-out dining experience, perhaps as a special celebration or to really impress a date, where all your senses – even your sense of time and space – have been catered for, where the food is not only delicious but also a lot of fun, The Ivy Asia is an ideal, entertaining, little dreamworld of a solution.

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