My Mum celebrated her 60th birthday recently and was coming to Bristol to celebrate with us. Dad wanted to take her somewhere nice to eat. With it being a special occasion suggesting the usual baby friendly options of Giraffe or Bills seemed a bit underwhelming…but where the hell do you go to celebrate a special birthday when you have a six month old? Well, it seems the answer is, the same you would have gone if you didn’t have a six-month old. We decided to brave The Ivy Clifton Brasserie.
Granted, The Ivy wasn’t the first place we thought of. There are a number of lovely small independent restaurants on Gloucester Road that I would have loved to have gone to…but the general rule is, the bigger the restaurant, the less your baby’s squeaks and screams are noticed. Descriptions like “cosy” put me off immediately as I imagined Ivor bursting into DADADADADADADADABABABABABA or being stared down by an angry mob who were faced with the choice of Ivors screams or baby sensory videos on you tube.
The Ivy Brasserie Clifton is a large, airy venue that’s always busy at the weekend and the lofty ceilings of the old bank building create just the right amount of din to mask baby noise and “row row row your boat” being sung eight times in a row. I did have a slight panic when we first arrived though. It was only five thirty, but there wasn’t a single other child, of any age in the restaurant. Was it going to be a night of shitty looks and tuts?
Despite my dad telling them we would have a baby in a pushchair, we were once again given a table at the very very back of the restaurant. I get why they do it, they think they’re helping by giving you a table with a bit more room and in a quieter spot, but here we go again trying to navigate a travel system between 40 tables like some skill game from The Crystal Maze : Hit more than three chairs and it’s an automatic lock in! Thankfully, the Ivy is not one of those places that stuffs tables in so tightly that your chair is practically hitting the person behind you, and we got to our table pretty unscathed. So for this alone, The Ivy gets a big thumbs up. We did have to ask one gentleman to get up to let us past on the way out once it was busier, but that’s practically best case scenario wherever you go.
We took our trusty Phil and Ted’s Lobster high chair even though the Ivy do have highchairs available. We just find the lobster so useful. Rather than Ivor being marooned at the end of the table we were able to sit him snugly between us. He is still getting used to high chairs and sitting still for more than half an hour in them, so we wanted him somewhere we could quickly get to him. We’ve only been weaning Ivor for a month and this brilliant contraption is becoming one of our best buys.
Starters didn’t disappoint. I had the mozerela which was delicious and fresh. Its was perfectly proportioned for a starter with a creamy but light dressing. Alex wolfed down his steak tartare and there was no complaints about the duck or the crispy apple and stilton salad either. Ivor had a bit of a wobble just before our starters arrived and then got hungry, so we pulled him out of the Lobster and gave him a bottle which put him to sleep for the next thirty minutes. We didn’t need to get up and place him in his buggy as our table had booth style seating so he had a lovely nap between us while we chatted.
The service between courses at the Ivy is perfectly paced. You’re not rushed to finished but the waiting staff were very efficient at clearing unwanted plates, glasses and cutlery and keeping the water glasses filled. I was hoping to feed Ivor before our mains arrived, but of course he was still asleep so I crossed my fingers he didn’t wake up mid way through in a rage…he woke up mid way through in a rage.
Our whole table burst into over the top smiles and claps to distract him long enough for me to get YouTube to play his favourite video (Super Simple’s Baby Shark). Im not a stick em in front of the TV parent, but when you’re in a posh restaurant and your baby is on the cusp of a post nap meltdown, thank fuck for iParent. So with Baby Shark now working it’s magic we were able to enjoy our mains.
There was absolutely no discussion about what I was going to order. I decided to stop expressing and move Ivor to formula a few weeks earlier, which meant I could finally have swordfish again. It was tender and flavoursome and came with a sweet red pepper sauce and giant cous cous. We ordered the lemon butter broccoli and creamed spinach as sides which were utterly delicious. My only mild annoyance was that my knife was too blunt to easily cut the al-dente broccoli stalks. Mum also had the swordfish, whilst Alex had the lamb and my Dad had the half a boneless chicken. Again no complaints, other than Alex not being too keep on the herbs used to marinade the lamb. My Dad’s chicken was extremely tasty, and he found the “boneless” aspect of the dish novel. Unfortunately I did have to rush my meal a little. The charms of a Super Simple song compendium video only entertains a six month old who doesn’t like like sitting up much for so long.
I managed to convince him to sit in the chair for a bit longer by tempting him with his favourite meal (pears peas and cinnamon). We had a bit of a false start as he turned his head away and grumbled but once I got him to take a few mouthfuls the whole pouch was gone within a few minutes. I like to make my own baby food wherever possible, but baby fingers and bowls in the Ivy was something I wasn’t relishing the idea of. I’m all for taking your baby to ‘grown up’ places, but it’s still important to respect other people. I thought about just buying a batch of Ella’s Kitchen pouches for times like this but decided to try putting my own food into refillable pouches first. I use Doddlebags for thier versatility and ease of use. The pouch meant that Ivor wasn’t sticking his fingers in the food (something he thoroughly enjoys at home) and it really did help keep mess to minimum. A pot of food may work fine in Pret, but if you’re headed somewhere with a little more class, or god forbid, white tablecloths, take your homemade purees in a Doddlebag!
I can’t tell you how good dessert was. I was too full to manage one. My husband had the Vanilla Panacotta, of which my mouthful was divine and my Dad’s cheeseboard was well presented and included a variety of cheese which he ate almost silently…a sure sign it was fantastic. I wasn’t going to let my full stomach get the better of me though. Even though I couldn’t manage a desert I had spied a salted caramel espresso Martini on the cocktail menu. It would’ve been almost too sweet if the espresso base hadn’t been so strong and rich. It was utterly divine and I urge you to try it…but leave it until the end of your meal. It is so sweet, it’s less a cocktail and more a liquid pudding.
And then it happened. The poonami of all poonamis. It was so big it actually seeped right through the material of his jeans, down his leg and up his back. The utter panic on my face gave me away to my husband who, on realising I hadn’t finished my Martini, graciously whisked Ivor away to deal with what he described later as the “thick slimy brown poop of doom”. He couldn’t find the baby changing facilities (The Ivy. does have this facility) and being typical Alex, rather than just asking someone, wrestled with Ivor and the poop of doom on the floor of the gents. We’d called a taxi just five minutes earlier and it was now waiting on double yellow lines outside the restaurant, but Alex finally appeared looking a little traumatised and we bundled everyone into the taxi.
“I lost one of his socks”
“Whatever…Oh hang on ….where’s his other shoe?”
“I don’t know, don’t you have it?”
“No…I only have one shoe…oh where the fuck is his shoe?! For fucks sake, now I’m going to have to call The Ivy and ask them if they found a baby’s shoe with a sausage dog’s arse on it.”
I never did have to make that phone call. The shoe turned up in my handbag, and I still have no idea how it got there.
The Ivy might not be the first place you’d think to take a 6 month old who has just started weaning. But the staff were welcoming and did what they could to make our evening easier. The ambiance drowned out most of Ivors whines and chatter and we were able to have YouTube on at a low level without disturbing anyone else. So it might not be the easiest outing ever, and takes a bit of preparation, but it’s more than possible, and was very enjoyable.