A good dining experience is very much like a night out at the theater. There’s an opening act, the starter or appetizer. Then there’s dramatic tension, the meat of the play if you will, the entree. Finally, everything wraps up with a sweet culmination, a dessert or cordial. Amidst all of this there is music to accompany the entire performance, a cocktail, of course!
If you aren’t one for theatrical metaphors, then I’ll get to the point, The Ivy Now by Fernando Peire is an exquisite book in both form and substance. Beyond the clever architecture of the book itself, The Ivy Now is an ode to the history and timelessness of one of London’s most famous theater-district restaurants.
To celebrate its 100 year anniversary, Peire shares a smattering of anecdotes from the restaurant which are perfectly paired with exactly 100 recipes. How clever is that?
One of the most unique features I found while reading the book was how it transported me to a time and place unlike any other. While it’s not that unusual to order takeout or go to a restaurant today, 100 years ago it was a luxury to be able to afford to go out, get all dressed up, and dine at a place like The Ivy.
The outward appearance of this book is just as beautiful as the stories and recipes it holds inside. If you follow me on Instagram (@2LWithIt), I’ll post a boomerang this weekend of how clever this book’s outer front cover’s construction is. As you open up the deep magenta wings, you’ll notice that the edges of the pages are an electric neon green. This juxtaposition of colors alone is impressive and is wildly foretelling of the attention to detail you’ll come across as you continue reading.
The book is organized akin to a theatrical production (do you sense a theme, yet?). These are the chapters you’ll find inside:
-Act I: Classic Starters
-Act II: Starters
-Act III: Asian Graze & Share
-Act IV: Plancha & Charrill
-Act V: Classic Mains
-Act VI: Sea & Shells
-Act VII: Salads & Sides
-Act VIII: Vegetarian
-Act IX: Desserts
Given this is quite a collection of recipes, I tried to dabble in as many “acts” as I reasonably could in a given night (or two).
ACT I, Classic Starters: Bang Bang Chicken (p. 23)
This recipe came to the Ivy after its owner at the time, Chris Corbin, tasted a similar dish in Chinatown and had to have it at his restaurant. Bang Bang Chicken is now an Ivy staple…and after cooking it myself, I know why!
You simmer the chicken in a wonderful broth of coconut cream, soy sauce, lemongrass, and other flavors for about 20-30 minutes. Pair that with a viscous peanut sauce that I was literally spooning mouthfuls of as I was preparing this dish. Finally, plate everything on a delicate bed of finely shredded salad composed of beansprouts, scallions, snow peas, daikon, and carrots…and BANG BANG, you’ve made the dish!
I’d definitely give this a 5/5 in flavor, ease of cooking, and overall presentation. (It was also a great meal to make ahead of time and have to each throughout the week, as I put the peanut sauce in little travel containers to add when I was about to eat it).
ACT V, Classic Mains: Shepherd’s Pie (p. 125)
I’d be remiss to not attempt a recipe like this in an English cookbook. The Ivy’s take on this is a riff of a shepherd’s pie and a cottage pie, as this one has both beef and lamb. I’d liken a dish like this to an Italian lasagna-straightforward in preparation, but robust in flavor composition. The same is true for a shepherd’s pie: you chop all of the vegetables and let them sweat until they’re tender. Then you add the meat, potatoes, and top with mashed potatoes. To get that crispy finish on the top, you cook everything for about 30 minutes in the oven, or until golden brown.
This dish was a HUGE hit with my family, even my boyfriend who can be picky when it comes to non-traditional dishes (he likes his meat and potatoes looking like such and not minced up into a pie, if you know what I mean)…but even he asked if there were leftovers to have for lunch the next day, that’s how good it was.
Again, not to be redundant, but 5/5 for flavor and overall satisfaction
ACT VII, Sarladaise Potatoes (p. 189)
The Ivy serves this dish alongside its roasted Devonshire chicken for two. I’d say it’s an elegant version of mashed potatoes…if mashed potatoes were delicately sliced and layered with mushrooms. This recipe is very easy to make, and jokes aside comparing it to fancy mashed potatoes, it tastes great and pairs really well with chicken, red meat, fish, and even vegetables.
My favorite part about this dish is how crispy you can make the potatoes, almost like the crispiness of a french fry, but with a more layered effect. I’d give this 5/5, because it’s impressive when you can make a side dish that would fit right in at any steakhouse or 5-star restaurant.
ACT IX, Pears in Nightshirts (p. 237)
I don’t know about you, but when I read the name of this recipe I had to make it! I mean, what is a pear in a nightshirt?? Truth be told, this is a classic English dessert that’s much easier to make than it looks and is a much more playful take on serving fruit or chocolates for dessert. The steps for this dish are a bit longer than others in the book, but that’s because you have to individually peel and prep each pear, make chocolate sauce, and whip up meringue.
For many home cooks, none of these steps are too complicated and could easily be done ahead of time (e.g. the coring of the pears and the melting of the chocolate that could later be reheated). I won’t spoil the surprise about how you put this dish together, but all I’ll say is that I’m usually not a fan of meringue and these wow’d me. Another 5/5.
If you do make this dish and like meringues, I’d advise making a little extra in your batch, because then you can have little meringue cookies to eat later. Just an idea…
All in all, I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to travel without leaving the comfort of their own kitchen. I’d also give it to theater or history aficionado friends, because they’ll appreciate the tidbits of nostalgia and theater references sprinkled throughout the book.
This book is beautiful in thought and design…and if you don’t fall into either of the above categories of recommended readers, if you’re just looking for a pretty coffee table book/conversation starter, this is your girl!
I received this book complimentary on behalf of the publisher, but all thoughts and opinions in this post are my own. All photography featured in this post is my own; please seek permission before copying or reproducing the images.
Score Card: Cover Art 5/5 | Content 5/5 | Ease of Read 5/5
Book Stats: Title- The Ivy Now, written by Fernando Peire & recipes by Gary Lee.
Page Count- 251
Binding-Hardcover (color photography and recipes inside)