Monday, 25 February 2019

Vegan menu review | The Ivy Clifton Brasserie, Bristol

At The Ivy Clifton Brasserie, Bristol to review the vegan menu. And ogle the interiors.

Readers! I've been itching to try the vegan menu at The Ivy in Clifton, Bristol, for a while now, and was thrilled to be invited along to review. And here it is! Written by old hack and new vegan, Mike (rather than new-ish hack and old-ish vegan, yours truly). Over to Mike...

While I've only been officially vegan since January, I've been vegetarian since I was around 20. And it's been easy (and anyone who pulls the bacon excuse needs to grow up). You know why? Because I was one of those rubbish vegetarians who ate fish. You can blame my upbringing in a fishing port where if it came out of the sea, it was battered and eaten. However the real 'benefit' of this lightweight ethical choice was restaurants. While real veggies sighed at Parsnip Surprise, I could say 'I'll just have the sea bass' and everything was gravy (albeit minus the meat stock).

But vegan… Vegan is a whole different kettle of fishless fingers. I now have to have the vegetables. Now that's been okay in vegan-only restaurants - they obviously know what they're doing because it's, well, what they do. It's also been okay in Indian restaurants and the posher street food places, where flavours can proudly go big and bold and blow your bloody head off.

But what about proper restaurants? Restaurants that offer finer dining, more sophisticated delicacies, subtler flavours… What about places where you'd usually have the sea bass?

Which brings us to The Ivy Clifton Brasserie Bristol. While I was more than aware of the coos and ahhs from friends and colleagues who've visited this Clifton Village brasserie since it opened in 2016, the closest I've managed to get to it is a curry down the road at Nutmeg (bonus review: glorious!) and a passing peer through the windows while schlepping up to the slippery slip (ask your Bristolian friends).

However tonight, it wasn't only time to break my duck but it was time to try The Ivy's vegan-only offering. No hastily Biro-ed Vs on a dog-eared menu that's been passed from one pasty meat-dodger to another. Nope, a proper grown-up vegan menu in a proper grown-up restaurant.

The challenge was clear: can a proper grown-up restaurant tease enough flavour out of some very limited ingredients, deliver a refined tasting experience without resorting to spice overload and make you not covet the sea bass on the next table?

But if tonight was going to be one of coveting another man's meal, it was going to be a bloody stylish one. The Ivy Clifton Brasserie Bristol is one seriously good-looking restaurant - absurdly high ceilings betray the building's grand NatWest banking origins [note from Lottie: I used to come in here when I was a kid with my dad!], decorative foliage and subdued lighting keep things intimate whilst foxed glass mirrors and a Blossom Dearie soundtrack offered the necessary vintage Jazz Age appeal for suspending disbelief on a rainy Wednesday evening in Clifton. For a couple who had just inhaled the first season of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel in a weekend, this was simply divine.

This is about the vegan menu, though, and this menu is the business. We started with cocktails, quaffed on the two-seater leather sofa from which we would dine (and not slouch, before you ask - it was as firm and supportive as a Rigby & Peller bra). Lottie enjoyed an Ivy Royale, The Ivy's signature Kir Royale with Briottet rose liquor, Plymouth sloe gin and hibiscus, topped with bubbles. I plumped for a Plum Tree: Naked Grouse Scotch, Umeshu Japanese plum liqueur, Briottet créme de figue, Olorosso sherry and whiskey barrel bitters. As man who enjoys an Old Fashioned or three, you know why I wanted another.

The menu was a treat. We ignored the antipasti (although the courgette fries still have my name on them), heading straight for the starters which ranged from warm salads and roasted soups to baked truffle pasta, priced between £5.50 and £8.95. I plumped for the Warm Asian Salad, a surprisingly bold mix of cold watermelon, warm pak choi, broccoli and cashew nuts - as random as the jazz version of Billy Idol the music system started playing and approximately 7,000,000 times more palatable.

Lottie went with the Avocado and Tomato Cocktail. Now, my measure of any half-decent restaurant is 'are the tomatoes just out of the fridge then?'. And, unsurprisingly, these well-seasoned, room temperature toms were complemented by red peppers, pomegranate and a not-overpoweringly spicy harissa sauce. A considered, even elegant start, and one our vegan wine choice (a delicate Grenache Blanc at £19.75) didn't have to struggle against. Fellow booze lovers will appreciate the inclusion of vegan wines on offer, the attentive sommelier even offering to nip out and source a bottle of vegan fizz if we so desired. Nice.

Time for the main bout. Lottie went first, opting for the Roasted Butternut Squash With Grains - all buckwheat and chickpeas, with crumbled bean curd, harissa sauce and a delicate coriander dressing. I went similar-ish, enjoying the Dukka Spiced Sweet Potato made up from baba ganoush, toasted almonds and a deep Moroccan tomato sauce. The dish came with coconut yoghurt - and as vegans will know, the wonderfully cloying dairy fats of yoghurt can be illusive to vegan substitutes (and don't get me started on vegan 'cheese'). This, however, was just lovely.

Impressions? First, the good. The technique was as obvious as it was exemplary - the squashes and sweet potato, so easy to reduce to mush, were superbly cooked whilst the favours managed to be light yet offer up depth. Other highlights were the thick cut chips (who needs animal fat? Not The Ivy Clifton Brasserie Bristol) and, without being vulgar, the price - all mains (and we didn't try the wild mushroom risotto, the open sandwich or the curry (who bothers with curry in a restaurant?!)) being between £9.75-16.95. The downside? Hard to find, but maybe the slight over-reliance on squashes, coriander and sweet potato is something that could be considered as the menu rotates into summer.

Enough. Dessert couldn't hope to equal the highs of BV ('before vegan'). Essentially, unless you're one of those specialist vegan cake stalls in St Nick's Market, dessert is inevitably a bit of a no-show. Lottie's sorbet triptych (blood orange, lemon, mango) was just as refreshing as you'd imagine a sorbet triptych would be. I went for the fruit plate, in search of what exactly £7.95's worth of fruit looked like. The answer? Unquestionably delicate - with bonus charred lime, basil leaves and edible flowers - but no matter how exquisite the presentation, this was the kind of 'price vs ingredient' challenge that once had me opting for the sea bass.

But #fruitgate (and I'm just taking the mick tbh) aside, The Ivy Clifton Brasserie Bristol effortlessly delivered a dining experience that gave a resounding 'yes' to the question of whether a proper restaurant can do vegan food. If vegans support The Ivy (and they should), expect that well-priced menu to expand and evolve into new heights.

Bank on it, as we should probably say.

Thanks Mike! You're quite good at this reviewing lark, aren't you?
What about you, readers - have you been to The Ivy Clifton Brasserie Bristol? What did you think? Posting this has given me the push I need to book a table for lunch sometime soon. 

With thanks to The Ivy Clifton Brasserie Bristol for inviting us to review their vegan menu.
The restaurant was kind enough to offer us a complementary three-course meal, welcome cocktails and a bottle of wine for the purposes of this review. 
Thanks so much for reading, and thus making this blog possible!
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