Reviewing The Ivy Castle View in Guildford

PUBLISHED: 11:21 18 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:09 18 September 2018

The Bar at The Ivy Castle (Photo by Paul Winch-Furness)

The Bar at The Ivy Castle (Photo by Paul Winch-Furness)

Photographer Paul Winch-Furness

To much fanfare, Guildford has welcomed restaurant royalty to town but can the food live up to the spectacular castle view?

Glitz; glamour; film and theatre stars; celebrity agents and the agents of their agents; the finer things in life; Champagne celebrations…

For more than 100 years, The Ivy has garnered a reputation at the top of the star spotting table from its haunt near Covent Garden. Such has been its attraction that back in 2010 restaurant critic Matthew Fort wrote for the Guardian: “All these elements should create a template for cloning successful restaurants. If that were the case, there would be many more rich restaurateurs. But it’s not as easy as it looks – it’s not easy to create; it’s not easy to maintain. There can really only be one Ivy.”

Suffice to say, things have changed slightly since then and The Ivy has found a way against the economic grain to open cafés and brasseries in seemingly every town that has a respectable ladies fashion boutique and interior design gallery. What really sells the Guildford restaurant, of course, is the ridiculously lovely view across the pristine Castle grounds and quiet streets that makes you wonder “why on earth did no one do this before?” You feel like the king or queen of Guildford’s perhaps most iconic monument while settling down on The Ivy’s meticulously appointed roof top terrace.

I have to be honest here. I didn’t really want to review The Ivy. Not because I thought it was going to be rubbish, but because I’d usually prefer to reserve this space to celebrate our county’s independents. It’s not like The Ivy need the publicity either – EVERYONE is talking about it in every city that it opens. But, like Anthony Bourdain to a pint of Guinness in Dublin, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Depending on your angle of approach (personally, I’d recommend a stroll through the Castle grounds and a moment in The Keep pub), you may find yourself walking through Guildford’s multi-million pound new shopping centre, Tunsgate Quarter. It’s a bit surreal but thoroughly impressive when the atrium opens up to two floors of The Ivy stretching out above you.

From your first sighting of the restaurant façade and its signature “nothing to see here” windows to glimpses of the vibrant artworks on the walls and the cut of the jib at the bar, you know exactly where you are. My eyes dance passed the eminently Instagramable interior and the “bustling for a Wednesday evening in Surrey” crowd, straight to the open air and blue skies.

The steak tartare was a real winnerThe steak tartare was a real winner

Food with a view

Relaxing at our table while trying a couple of the house cocktails and perusing the dawn to dusk menu, it feels a little like being on holiday too. If they could work out a way to re-navigate the River Wey up Castle Street, it would be heaven to watch the boats float by. That said, life is slow on the road below and your immediate view is straight into the birds’ nests in the trees and the castle beyond. It’s rather lovely. I could happily relax in our spot for hours but I’ve already spotted that there’s a two-hour maximum stay for diners. What’s the rush?

Basking in the sunshine, we can’t resist a few summery selections and a bottle of rose to share.

The undoubted star of our dishes is Sylviane’s steak tartare, which zings with fresh flavours, tabasco spiked gooeness and tender beef striploin. It’s a delicious little mix that conjures up travels in the south of France and watching the waves roll in.

My salmon and crab, with dill cream and lemon ready for squeezing, is perhaps a touch cold on delivery, but the simple flavours shine through once it warms up. Sylviane’s market special (sea bass with a sort of tapenade-like accompaniment) and my blackened cod baked in a banana leaf with citrus-pickled fennel, grilled broccoli, chilli and yuzu mayonnaise, both sound like taste sensations but never quite threaten to steal the show.

Sides are required and our truffle and parmesan chips and San Marzano tomato and basil salad with Pedro Ximenez dressing again read like things that should be stunning.

Service throughout our meal couldn’t have been friendlier - if bordering on the scarily efficient at times. Our main waitress is only on her second day but sweet and enthusiastic. Ladies in red seem to constantly pass through the tables with tablet computers though, and at times I wonder who is reviewing who…

Theatre arrives with my apple tarte dessert. Calvados is fired up in a pan in front of you and then poured flaming over the tart. It tastes like the crunchy bits from a fairground toffee apple. Sylviane’s cheese board, loaded with Quicke’s cheddar and Camembert from Normandy, certainly hits the spot.

So, let’s sum things up. The team are lovely and well-trained, the food is tasty if not always as spectacular as the setting and that view just whisks you off on holiday while also showcasing one of Guildford’s best scenes. The fact that I’m left a little nonplussed by it all probably says more about me – and perhaps the heightened expectations – than it does about the restaurant itself. I certainly know countless people who will love the place.

The Ivy Castle View, Tunsgate Quarter, 98-110 High Street, Guildford GU1 3QY; theivyguildford.com

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