1) The Ivy
‘A classic name in the restaurant world and one most significant to the men and women of the theatre, the Ivy has at last changed hands. Since its inception until, last year it was under the administration of M. Abel, who so many will think of in his present-day retirement with affection and respect.
Now an entirely new ‘ character’ takes over—a big, boisterous, gentle, tough, kindly Edwardian fish king with a tremendous laugh, and a fair measure of that divine inheritance which is cockney humour. Waving a vast paw, he tells you, ‘I’m in fish, m’ father was in fish, I know fish, and yet I still put vinegar on my oysters because I like ‘em that way. It’s the fish lark that has given me four restaurants in London.’ Here he is apt to pause and reflect—the four restaurants seem both to astonish and tickle him. In a world overrun with meagre men Bernard Walsh stands out, nor alone for his height and build—nor for his silver side-whiskers and fancy weskits, but for his overall rumbustious largeness. Thirty-eight pancakes is his normal portion. ‘I like pancakes’, he explains. He probably has more friends among the press than any other restaurateur in London, and that speaks as loud and hearty as his laugh.
As he also likes meat, and Bernard, we say ‘gets what he wants’, the meat and the fish are quite excellent at the Ivy. Oysters are opened at the table ( the Bill of Fare states this), gives the prices—12s. No 2 Natives, 15s. No 1 Natives, 21s. Colchester—and Bernard adds as we twinkle at each other, ‘ I take the boast, ‘natives’ off my menu, when every fish-boy knows the town has run out of ‘em—which is more than some restaurants do.’ He is correct.
Correct, too, and good value are his Moules Mariniere ( 6s 6d), superb lobsters ( the scene on one occasion when these were cooked in the morning for evening service instead of in the afternoon!), served Cardinal, Newburg, Mornay and Thermidor for 11s. 6d.; his entrecotes( 7s. 6d.), mixed grill ( 10s. 6d.) , chops ( 7s.6d.) and lamb cutlets ( 7s.6d.).
You’ll probably see mine host sitting at a table on the left of the restaurant enjoying his own caviare, which is better presented and served than we have seen on any other English restaurant.’
The words of Fanny or Johnnie, or both, in 1956, six years after the famous restaurant was taken over by the oyster king, Bernard Walsh, son of a Whitstable oyster specialist. Bernard had come to London to enter the theatre world in the roaring twenties and had became a chorus boy and a stage manager, then married a chorus girl, but had given up his theatre career because it didn’t pay enough to support his family. So, encouraged by his dad, who had seen a vacant shop in Soho, he sold oysters for a living there, but before too long had converted his shop into a very basic restaurant in 1929. He called it ‘Wheeler’s’ after his dad’s Whitstable shop, and a legend was born. He ended up with a chain of four fish restaurants. Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud were frequent diners and as part payment for their lengthy tabs agreed to supply Walsh with two portraits. Bacon painted Freud, but Freud spurned the chance to paint his friend, deciding to paint Walsh instead. The result was ‘Painting of a Man ‘(1955), which fetched £1.83 when it was auctioned in 2012.
All this doesn’t quite explain why Bernard decided to add The Ivy to his portfolio in 1950. The restaurant had never been known for its fish before his arrival , having been founded by Abel Giandellini in 1916 as an unlicensed café specialising in Italian food. With the superb chef Mario Gallati at its helm
it became a haunt of many famous theatre and opera stars, including Olivier, Melba, and Noel Coward. Under Walsh, however, it ‘ languished ‘, possibly because he overstretched himself and possibly because it was seen as inferior to his four oyster bars. With Walsh’s death in 1981 the Ivy was sold to Lady Grade and the Forte Foundation, but declined still further. Eventually, the irascible Marco Pierre White took it over. It changed hands again and as the home of favourite comfort food, it attracts a new generation of luvvies.
R. M. Healey