January 2017 will see The Ivy celebrate its centenary as a restaurant that has stayed vibrant and current for today’s diners while keeping its air of class and glamour. The Ivy and the (even older) restaurant J Sheekey have both undergone refurbishments recently as part of Caprice Holdings‘ plans to keep them firmly in the minds of diners old and new, and the company has shown it has its finger on the pulse with the recent opening of Sexy Fish.
Here we speak to the people who have made sure these long established brands feel fresh and alive instead of tired and old, and find out how they captured a new audience with the company’s latest offering.
The Ivy re-opened in June last year after five months of refurbishment that saw, among other additions, the creation of a new central dining bar. A “great deal of thought” went into the changes, says Caprice Holdings’ group chef director Tim Hughes, who explains the new bar creates a “more democratic layout” for diners.
A great deal of care went into the new menu, too, as this had become a “reference among restaurateurs the world over as a lesson in how to write an all-encompassing menu without seeming too chaotic,” Hughes says, praising executive chef Gary Lee for managing to “keep The Ivy classics like the Shepherd’s Pie and the Bang Bang Chicken, although that has morphed into something altogether more modern and appetising”. Other additions have seen a new ‘Sea and Shells’ section on the menu and the first weekday breakfast service in the restaurant’s history.
But many of its special features have stayed the same: “We have been careful to retain the elements that have remained so appealing to our customers over the years,” says Frances Dore, director of sales and marketing at Caprice Holdings. “This meant the wood panelling, the harlequin stained glass windows and the striking artwork.”
The refurbishment of J Sheekey has seen a more “radical” change within the restaurant Hughes says, with the renaming of the Oyster Bar to the J Sheekey Atlantic Bar, despite this part of the restaurant only opening in 2008. It was important to let people know there was much more than just oysters on the menu, he explains.
As with The Ivy, there are elements that have been kept and some that have been updated. “The curvaceous bar lamps, the cracked lacquer horseshoe shaped bar, the tiling on the floor have been offset by the vivacious colour scheme outside, which brightens up St Martin’s Court no end,” Dore said. The J Sheekey Atlantic Bar has been a focus for the restaurant since it re-opened, and played host to a collaboration with illustrator Quentin Blake for the launch of the new terrace on St Martin’s Court.
What hasn’t changed at both establishments, Dore says, is the feeling of belonging that people have when they cross the threshold. “It’s a delicate balance, which has been carefully managed by the team, the designer and the marketing and comms team. The strength of the brands and their heritage, in both cases, is by no means a guarantee, but it certainly helps and people have been intrigued and pleasantly surprised by the changes.”
Updating heritage brands is not the only way Caprice Holdings is staying current, however. In October last year it opened Sexy Fish, a new Asian fish and seafood restaurant in Berkeley Square that boasts the second biggest Japanese whisky collection in the world.
“We wanted to get out of our comfort zone and create something completely different – no other Caprice group restaurant resembles Sexy Fish,” Hughes says. The crowd who drink and dine there is “eclectic, local and international, and most definitely fun-loving,” while the menu reflects today’s demand for Asian cuisines. “We had to have a menu that was going to tempt and excite people as much as the restaurant and bar have, and I think both the kitchen and bar teams have delivered this,” Hughes adds.
And that’s not all. Dore says that after the creation of a “sassy” short film to show off the whiskies, she is looking forward to seeing out the rest of the year for the brand: “I’m pretty geed up about what we have coming up for Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s Eve at Sexy Fish, so I suggest you keep an eye out and an ear to the ground.”
We absolutely will.
Photo credits: J Sheekey photos courtesy of Sim Cannety-Clarke and Paul Winch-Furness. The Ivy photo courtesy of Tom Phillips. Sexy Fish photo by James McDonald.