Since its arrival on the Cheltenham restaurant scene just before Christmas, you’d be forgiven for thinking The Ivy Montpellier Brasserie was the only restaurant in town. It’s become an instant Instagram favourite and although they save tables for walk-ins each day, thousands of reservations were made before they’d ever opened. LewisLoves visited recently to check it out for ourselves and see if it lived up to the hype.
If you ever visited The Rotunda in its former guise as a branch of Lloyds bank, you might be forgiven for being rather unimpressed. The building was clearly impressive, but it was so drab and dreary. When The Ivy’s hoardings went up outside, I was really hopeful they’d work some magic and restore its former glory. Thankfully, they didn’t disappoint having spent a small fortune on a full revamp.
Led by a bold and bright colour scheme, the walls are adorned with horse racing liveries in a nod to Cheltenham’s most famous pastime. A glorious art deco circular bar holds centre stage, shimmering with crystal glassware and opulent lighting. The star of the show shines upon high though; the iconic domed ceiling towers over the main restaurant and is truly remarkable. Wow factor indeed! Despite its grandeur, the room feels intimate and the curved bench seating is at the perfect angle to ensure you never feel too close to your neighbours.
London’s original Ivy is synonymous with impeccable service. The linen table cloths are perfectly starched, the servers are professional, friendly and helpful, and a crumb sweeper is never too far away. True to form, The Ivy Montpellier Brasserie doesn’t disappoint and the staff live up to their reputation. Our coats were gladly taken to the cloakroom and our host gave us the warmest of welcomes before seating us on the burnt orange leather banquette which sweeps around the main room. There are also tables at the front of the building which are fine, particularly for large groups. They perhaps miss out on the atmosphere and decor of the main room though; try to score a central table if you can.
The assured waiter helped us to choose a wonderful Austrian Grüner Veltliner to compliment our food choices, and was regularly on hand to top up our wine glasses from the ice bucket. If you’ve ever seen How I Met Your Mother, it was a bit like having our own personal Linus. If not, let’s just say the service was perfectly attentive but never over the top. Not quite ready to give the game away and announce my pregnancy to the world, I politely said I was driving and Adam secretly drank my glass of wine. Lucky boy! For his liver’s sake though, I’m glad we’ve since shared our news!
Kicking off the evening with cocktails, Adam tried a Buttered Manhattan. Unsurprisingly, it’s rather like a standard Manhattan but the butter washed bourbon lent it a slightly smoky aftertaste and a smoother mouthfeel. We’ve previously tried a few of their other cocktails and they are pretty decent on the whole. I’d recommend the Cotswolds Passion which involves fresh passionfruit and flames!
As the designated driver due to my growing bump, I opted to try the non-alcoholic Seedlip Garden and tonic, nicely presented with fresh garden pea pods to garnish. To be honest though, it didn’t really do it for me. Ultimately, I would rather have had a Pittville Collins, albeit without the gin. I think the Ivy could certainly benefit from a decent mocktail menu; just because I’m not drinking doesn’t mean I want a green juice, which was what was suggested when I asked for a non-alcoholic cocktail.
I absolutely love mushrooms, so creamy mushrooms on toasted brioche was always going to be a winner for me. It was a decent portion with plenty of wild mushrooms, gran moravia cream sauce and earthy undertones of grated truffle. Adam’s yellowfin tuna carpaccio was an unusual but triumphant starter; the slices of marinated raw fish melted in the mouth, complimented by dots of creamy avocado puree and a sharp ponzu dressing.
The Main Event
Due a combination of nausea and a desire for plain food, I opted to play safe and have a steak, something I rarely order out. My sirloin steak was well cooked (I had to order it well done instead of my usual medium); however it remained juicy and was decently seasoned. Covered in a punchy and vibrant peppercorn sauce, it was exactly what it should have been and left me satisfied.
Adam’s blackened cod, baked in a banana leaf, was perfectly flaky and the salty sweet miso glaze paired beautifully with the citrussy yuzu mayonnaise. My side of fries were sadly a little soft and pale, but Adam’s truffle and parmesan variety were crisp and fluffy so I pinched quite a few of those; I can only assume mine had been standing around a few minutes. The lemon and chilli tenderstem broccoli was perfectly al dente though, and utterly delicious.
Given my love for drama, it’s perhaps no surprise that I am a big fan of theatrical food. I’d already seen enough melting chocolate bombes on Instagram to satisfy me for a few months. However, the flambéd tarte tatin sounded like a suitably exciting substitute. I felt vindicated when a large disc of crisp pastry, topped with thin slices of apple, arrived along with a copper pan and blowtorch. Deftly heating the pan until the calvados burst into a brilliant blue flame, the waiter poured it over my dessert to produce a satisfying caramelisation. Bravo! Far better than the Cointreau pancakes Adam once had; the waiter was so scared that he had barely lit the alcohol before jumping and squealing loudly. Adam was left with a pile of soggy and very boozy batter. Epic Fail!
Adam chose a hybrid of two quintessential 80s dinner party favourites; lemon meringue pie and baked alaska. Despite the sharp lemon curd and ice cream, it was tad sweet for me. Very pretty though with a towering meringue swirl and tiny basil leaves. Adam has a sweet tooth though and ended the night with a large smile and an empty plate.
Final Thoughts on The Ivy Montpellier Brasserie
As you’d expect given its origins, The Ivy Montpellier Brasserie delivers a polished service and a decent brasserie style menu. There are enough modern twists to keep it interesting, although don’t expect anything particularly innovative. For that, you’ll need to look to one of Cheltenham’s excellent independent offerings.
It’s neither the cheapest restaurant in town nor does it offer the best food. So why would you go there? Well, eating at The Ivy Montpellier Brasserie feels special, not least because of the stunning building and inimitable service. It fulfills a role as the perfect venue for when you’re feeling swanky and want to go all Great Gatsby, or when you fancy being pampered for the evening. Sometimes that’s what you really need!