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Spinningfields’ glow-up from slum to sanctum is perhaps an outdated point to make, seeing as the area Friedrich Engels once described as “ruinous and filthy districts, people whose occupations are thieving and prostitution” was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’.
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!