Keith Waterhouse once described Brighton as ‘a town that looks as if it’s helping the police with its enquiries.’ This barbed, if undeniably once accurate, comment seems somewhat outdated in 2019. Yes, there are still parts of Sodom-by-the-Sea, as it was once dubbed, that have the authentic seediness of the dive about them. However, there are now many more that do credit to any bustling metropolis, thanks to a combination of a lively and well-heeled populace with good taste and the far greater range of places for them to spend their money. Chief amongst these is one of the most welcome arrivals in the city, namely The Ivy In The Lanes, which offers splendid food in the most delightful of settings, at a price that all can afford.
Unlike the Ivy’s flagship eaterie on the edge of Covent Garden, whose imposing doormen practically shoo away any curious onlookers who are not in possession of either an agent or a reservation, the Brighton wing is open to anyone who knows it’s there. Discreetly located on a street that has a variety of other, less salubrious places to dine, the leaded windows of the restaurant, in a stylishly converted bank, beckon the curious like a tantalising looking glass. Eat me, it seems to breathe.
Inside, it is appropriate that we encounter a wonderland of Art Deco, busy with the hubbub of those who have eschewed the delights, or otherwise, of the nearby shops and have their sights, and their stomachs, set on higher things. The tables are closer together, and there are more of them, than ‘Up West’; for there are fewer celebrities to keep secluded from the rubbernecking of their neighbours. We’re all in it together at Ivy In The Lanes, with several tables evidently hosting grown-up children entertaining their visiting parents – perhaps to inform them that, by moving to Brighton from their childhood homes in the sticks, they have not, in fact, gone down in the world.
On this freezing, definitely not ‘dry’, January day, we peruse the menu, armed with two glasses of the Ivy’s excellent own-brand champagne. Crisp, plump sourdough bread is dispatched quickly, and then seafood is decided upon to start; finely smoked salmon with crab for Gustav, and a delightful combination of scallops, chorizo and butternut squash for Alex. All of this appears on our table with dexterous celerity. We are having a long lunch, but we don’t wish to engage in any unnecessary fripperies.
For mains, we agree that beef, adorned with various rich sauces, is called for. Alex orders the rib eye steak on the bone, while Gustav plumped for the day’s special, a hunk of beef accompanied by a liver paté-moistened brioche. Both are excellent, not least because of the well-chosen side orders; tomatoes with a tangy Pedro Ximenez sauce, finely cut chips and the kind of béarnaise that makes one check that one has not, in fact, wandered into a Provencal backstreet bistro by accident.
We were fortunate enough to be attended to by the charming Carmen, who enhanced her charms by informing us, when pressed, that she hailed from Sicily. Once we had established a rapport with Carmen and explained that we were definitely not tourists, it became less awkward to ask that she photograph us for editorial purposes. ‘More wine, gentlemen?’ It would have been a dereliction of duty not to have ventured into the excellent Chateau d’Arche Rouge from Bordeaux, and so we nobly sipped and supped with the best of them. And then something sweet was called for, and the chilly weather put us both in the mood for chocolate; Gustav enjoyed the theatricality of the chocolate bombe, detonated personally by Carmen and washed down with a glass of port, whereas Alex found that the cappuccino cake and espresso martini made the happiest of bedfellows.
We wandered out into the milky afternoon winter sun, fulfilled and replete. The Ivy in the Lanes makes its guests feel welcome, whether they are coming in for a full three-course blow-out or popping by for a cocktail and a sandwich. And that, frankly, is what any restaurant of this calibre should do. If this is what comes of helping the police with their enquiries, then we would be happy to place ourselves under this particular arrest any day of the week.
The Ivy In The Lanes
51A Ship Street
Brighton BN1 1AF