Ivy Asia, The Ivy, Manchester

Ivy Asia, The Ivy, Manchester

The ornate decor makes the place fit for a Bladerunner sequel.

You’re welcomed inside by a cheerful doorman fancifully adorned in St Patrick’s-esque green attire. Two immaculately presented concierges sit behind an enormous white marble desk and peppily catch your attention before you can wander around the three floors of the building without aim or agenda. Confirmation and instructions are given for our booking and we enter the ornate elevator behind us, satisfied that we are in for a treat.

This is The Ivy and it’s telling you how fancy it is.

The Ivy might not be everybody’s cup of tea. For me, it depends on what I want and what kind of day it is, but it’s my birthday and I want to be pampered and feel reet posh.

Situated in Spinningfields in between The John Rylands Library and 20 Stories, before you even get there you know it’s going to be pretty swanky. Spinningfields in Manchester has been likened to Canary Wharf in London and is steadily gaining a reputation for being an upmarket, glossy location to grab fanciful food and decadent cocktails. Glass buildings and financial brand names adorn the area and while initially you do enjoy the masquerade of being wealthy and white-collar, you can’t help but feel the needleprick of Manchester’s gentrification slowly piercing into your skin.

Spinningfields’ glow-up from slum to sanctum is perhaps an outdated point to make, seeing as the area Friedrich Engels once described as “ruinous and filthy districts, people whose occupations are thieving and prostitution” was described as such some 150 years ago. But anyone who frequents the city will be able to tell you Manchester is changing. It’s busier, it’s more expensive, it’s less friendly. I’m not enough of a local to tell you whether it’s a good or a bad thing, but there is a definite shift happening and time will tell if that shift prices out the born and bred people who call the city home.

But back to Ivy Asia.

We step out of the elevator onto the second floor. The decor is still ornate but with definite Asian nods and influences. We’ve come to the right place.

Another concierge pleasantly confirms our booking and shows us to a table, where a third staff member introduces herself as our server and hands us our menus. As much as all the staff have been lovely and efficient, I’m not sure so much interaction needs to be had, but I remind myself that if you want spoiling with luxury, there’s actually a lot of hand-holding involved.

The room is stunning. The eye-catching features are the luminous green tiles beckoning you with their lilypad lighting to keep stepping in, and the Japanese Kawara canopy built in over the bar that gives another clear signal as to what to expect from the menu. The tables have that kind of gold brass finish that we see in a lot of industrial decorated places these days, but it fits with the theme and prevents the floral prints on the soft furnishings looking too ‘grandma’.

Ethereal green tiles cover the entire restaurant floor.

Our server comes back, takes a drink order for two Asahis, and explains how the menu works. I personally like it when an eaterie does this because there is nothing more upsetting than ordering what you think is a main meal only for it to be a sharing plate that will leave you hungry. Likewise, I’ve ordered in places where supposedly snacky dishes have arrived by the mountainful and regretted ordering more than one plate.

She describes the menu as ‘Asian tapas’ which I can totally get behind. The cuisine is described as Asian fusion as there’s a lot of influences from all over the continent in the flavours and ingredients, so I accept the lack of ‘dim sum’ used in the description she gave.

We order the Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Kimchi Mayonnaise, Fried Chicken Gyoza & Truffle Soy, Crispy Duck Bao with Hoisin & Five Spice, Scallops & Sticky Barbecue Pork Belly, Slow Cooked Pork Belly & Asian Barbecue Sauce, and Kimchi Egg Fried Rice (gasps for breath).

There are other things on the menu I would have loved to try including some sashimi dishes and an avocado tofu dish, but my partner hates fish so I had to sacrifice my happiness for his as usual. Plus we agreed I could have all the scallops and he could have all the pork belly as a compromise.

The server confirmed our order back to us and said it would arrive as it was cooked, which again I personally like. For a Thursday evening there was a pleasant buzz and it even got relatively busy when a larger, louder party made full use of the bar, but it was a noise level you can cope with and enough people around to prevent the place feeling cold.

First dishes to arrive were the gyoza and the baos. They both came in one ‘level’ of a bento box and looked good enough to eat… so we did. The gyoza was deep fried and pleasantly crisp, and though my partner enjoyed them massively, I felt they were too big. I’m used to gyoza being small but numerous in a portion, but these were about the same size as the baos and you had about five in the one portion. They tasted good but not particularly better than gyoza I’ve had before, and I’d consider this a safe, filling dish if you don’t know where to start.

The baos on the other hand were amazing. I love baos and I love crispy duck, so it was never not going to work out. There was a bit of a kick from the marinade and some chopped chilies sprinkled on top, but not so much as to overwhelm the rich sticky sauce the duck was coated in. The duck itself was indeed crispy but not tough, and the little pot of fragrant sauce with the fresh salad in the bao married together with it wonderfully.

About halfway through these dishes the buttermilk fried chicken came. I personally wouldn’t have ordered this, I never have high hopes for fried chicken and hate negotiating bones. But the chicken was cut into little manageable cubes and lightly coated in a well-seasoned batter so I was pleasantly surprised. The mayonnaise was another thing entirely…

It was fucking amazing. Kimchi mayonnaise, a little sweet, a little spicy, a little sour, smooth and creamy as you like and one hundred per cent addictive. I’m been very ‘meh’ about kimchi on its own in my experience and have only had the odd dish with kimchi as a noticeable ingredient, but what I would do to get my hands on this sauce again is nothing short of criminal.

It looks a little dubious. With it’s unassuming bright orange liquid form, you could think it’s some sort of American plastic cheese concoction, but I promise you it is nothing short of incredible.

While I was holding back the tears about how amazing this sauce was, our final dishes came. I could have done without the fried rice and it didn’t get finished, but my partner loves a side dish more than I do. It had quite a kick to it that caught the back of my throat once or twice, so if you are expecting Chinese-chippy egg fried rice I wouldn’t order this. The rice itself was more akin to a sticky rice texture but that was most likely the kimchi binding everything together.

My scallops looked perfectly done and had a little orange sauce (KIMCHI MAYONNAISE?! I HOPE SO!) dropped underneath each one of them. In between the three scallops there was a couple of cubes of pork belly that smelled incredible and looked well coated in a dark sticky sauce. Some crispy looking ribbons adorned the plate and I got stuck in.

Oh my god, this pork belly is utterly amazing. It falls off the little skewers it comes on and I confirmed the big portion of pork belly my partner had is just the same. The sauce is decadent and rich and goes well with the charred bits of meat you get with the crispy top of a pork belly portion. The scallops were really good and went very well with the pork, a surf ‘n’ turf combo that I would want to see on a menu again. The crispy ribbons didn’t add all that much to the dish if I had to be critical, but they were little shards of crackling… who doesn’t enjoy them?

We scarfed it all and sat back satisfied. This was a good meal, a very good meal. Service was quick, attentive (to a fault almost if you don’t like a fuss) and we were even treated to a little complimentary cheesecake type thing to wish us both a happy birthday (yes me and my boyfriend have the same birthday, do not get me started). The portions are perfect, save for the gyoza, so after our little birthday sweet we didn’t really feel we needed a dessert, however we did order some sake and a cocktail.

I absolutely do not know enough about sake to review it properly, it was my first time trying it and I thought it was fine, however upon a little research I’m not sure whether it was actually supposed to be served warm to us. I know it’s a popular way to finish a meal, warm sake, but this particular sake seemed to widely be advised as ideal at room temperature. But no harm, no foul, it was a cosy way to end a meal and I know I don’t hate sake now which was the end goal of that exploration anyway.

All in all, I would recommend Ivy Asia in Spinningfields. The chefs and servers are very competent, the dishes are different and delicious, and the price isn’t actually as painful as we thought. It was just under £150 including a service charge, and that was for all the dishes mentioned above, two beers each, two sakes, two cocktails and two freebie mini desserts.

I look forward to going back when a special occasion calls for it and trying out the rest of the menu as well as some of the more fanciful cocktails on offer. Until then I am more than content with my jacket potato from the local caff and going down the pub for a roast on a wintry Sunday for under a tenner.

Check out my other reviews on all things foodie and pop culture and let me know what you want me to review next!

What Makes You So Special?

What Makes You So Special?

“I think the most creative people veer between ambition and anxiety, self-doubt and confidence. I definitely can relate to that. We all go through that: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ ‘Is this what I’m meant to be doing?'”

— Daniel Radcliffe

That’s right motherfuckers, I just quoted Harry Potter in a serious context.

I want to start this blog by talking about why I never started it before; imposter syndrome.

Ladies, you’ll probably be very familiar with this concept. Fellas, not so much, because the way the world has been built up to stroke your ego and feed your ambitions has meant generally speaking, this is something that affects women more. No offence guys. Even though that all sounds lovely by my reckoning.

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which “people believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative, despite evidence of high achievement”. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, coined the term back in 1978, so surely it should be old news by now right?

Wrong. An estimated 70% of women have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives and a study conducted in 2018 found that two thirds of women had fallen victim to imposter syndrome within the last year. Societal roles and societal expectations certainly play into this way of thinking as well. However, despite gender equality and workplace mentality improving leaps and bounds over the years, there are still people out there convinced that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, their talents aren’t really talents, and they’re fraudulently working and existing just until someone notices what the fuck’s up.

So what does this have to do with me you ask?

It’s actually nothing really important at all. I basically don’t have confidence in the skills and abilities that have always been celebrated and pointed out to me for my entire life. Despite all those Disney moments telling me to believe in my dreams throughout my childhood, I have reached my twenties with absolutely no self-esteem about what I can do and what I have done.

I have… imposter syndrome.

It’s ridiculous isn’t it? Literally hundreds of people throughout my life have told me I write well and should do it professionally. People like to hear my rantings and ravings for the most part and tell me they want to hear more. I have read paid professional’s works and thought “I could definitely do a better job” and yet the thought of pitching, writing and blogging terrifies me. I’ve never handled rejection well and it all just seemed like a fantasy to me.

But I’ve decided to just do it. Getting all Nike on the situation now.

Recently it occurred to me that I don’t believe I deserve to have a career in writing or even just to put my writing out there into the void for free. However when I pressed myself on that (I have a lot of conversations with myself, it’s like Fight Club in my head) I really couldn’t justify that line of thinking.

“Other people want to do blogs and write professionally, but they can’t!”

Okay… but people aside from them also wanted to and did so. People made it work. People thrived doing it.

“There are so many talented writers out there and people with more to say than you, what makes you think you should be the one to do this?!”

What exactly is it that means I shouldn’t be the one to do this?

“No one will read it, no one will think you’re good at writing, and everyone will laugh!”

Fine. I’m already assuming that’s happening anyway. If nothing comes from pursuing writing about society, culture and food, I’m in the same position I started in.

So we’ll see where this goes.

Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?

Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?

On the odd chance somebody from outside my tiny Cheshire village finds and likes this writing blog, I suppose an introduction is in order.

I’m Sophie. I’m 26. I’m basically always cranky.

Honestly I’m just using the exact template WordPress already gave me. You may call it lazy, but I call it efficient, and I think that little exchange sums up like 75% of who I am as a person.

We’ll call this blog article an introduction, but depending on how you feel about it I might rename it a warning. WordPress has asked me, ‘Why do this?’

  • Because it gives new readers context. What am I about? Why should you read my blog?
  • Because it will help me focus my own ideas about my blog and what I’d like to do with it.

Quite honestly, I’m simply using this blog to flex my writing skills. I miss writing creatively and writing critically. It’s taken me until the age of 26 to start owning skills that people have been telling me I’ve had since I was about 2.

I want to write professionally. How realistic that is, we’ll find out as we go along, but finding my voice, practicing my craft and having a ramble about society, culture, and food online seems like a relatively harmless way to get started.

I’m also convinced it will save the people I love from having to let me know go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…

Here’s some basics about me, but if you could also imagine me 5st lighter that would be great too:

  • I grew up in Holmes Chapel and now live in Stockport
  • My mum was Scottish and I absolutely milk the celtic roots of my heritage because of it
  • Dogs are my most favourite thing of all time I love them all
  • I am fat. Doesn’t affect my personality but if I need to put it on Tinder, I need to put it on here
  • I have two brothers, one older, one younger
  • Being the only girl and the middle child is just too much
  • My dad is essentially ‘off the grid’ and has no concept of modern pricing after being housebound for the best part of a decade
  • I have blue eyes and brown hair that is constantly getting bleached and dyed
  • My partner has the same birthday as me aside from the year
  • My ex-partner had the same birthday as Adolf Hitler. I have the same birthday as Eva Braun. That should have been a sign
  • I like certain pockets of every music genre, but I tend to lean towards the indie/rock side of things
  • I’ve seen all the films
  • I fucking hate lasagne

By no means do I think this is the best or necessarily the worst about me. Just stuff of note and things that have shaped me into who I am. It’s an amuse bouche of me I suppose, enough to show if I’ll provoke an attack from you or if I would amuse you.

Hopefully it’s enough to convince you to join me on this online journey. I didn’t enjoy writing that sentence, I felt like a very seedy old man who listens to prog-rock and has a wizard painted on his sketchy van.

But I’ve written it now, no turning back, we’re in this together, us against the world. Hot takes on societal expectations, articles with sociology and psychology themes. Critiques on Netflix dramas and documentaries. Fantasising about food and bragging about places I get to eat at.

God help us all.