Green with Envy
Natalie Anglesey meets Baton Berisha and Jason Annette the driving force behind the new food lovers paradise that is The Ivy.
The Ivy in London is one of my favourite restaurants. I was first taken there by Sir Cameron Mackintosh and subsequently met a host of showbiz glitterati at a series of private parties. My only complaint was that it was often difficult to get a table. So you can imagine my excitement this month at the opening in Manchester of The Ivy, part of the Ivy Collection, in Spinningfields.
There’s no danger of unavailability here, according to Baton Berisha, Director of Operations for The Ivy Collection. “This is the largest restaurant to open in the UK in 2018, with space for approximately 535 covers housed over four different floors so there should be no problem - although it’s always wise to book in advance. However, we do welcome what we call walk-ins on the ground floor Brasserie.”
We are already blessed with a plethora of good restaurants in Manchester, so I was interested to discover what precisely The Ivy Collection was going to provide that we didn’t already enjoy? The epitome of cool, with control over 33 restaurants nationwide, Baton is genuinely enthusiastic about his latest project.
“I’ve had my eye on Manchester for a long time as it’s such an interesting, metropolitan city. I’ve already eaten in most of the excellent restaurants here, but we’ll be offering Mancunians, and visitors to this great city, a completely new dining experience set across four fabulous floors in a prime location. The Ivy Spinningfields occupies an impressive, timber-framed space within a new development, called The Pavilion, which is a haven of greenery located right in the heart of the city.”
That’s the, but I’m keen to discover what’s inside as Baton explains. “On the ground floor will be the traditional Ivy Brasserie, open all day, seven days a week, serving modern British classics. While on the first floor, The Dalton Room, is for those seeking a more exclusive experience. It can accommodate parties of up to twenty seated guests and will be available all day. With its floor to ceiling glass walls, guests will be able to enjoy the views across Spinningfields.”
I’d also heard about an exciting new departure for The Ivy Collection which Baton is keen to elaborate. “The second floor houses The Ivy Asian – a glamorous bar and restaurant. The entire floor illuminated with a show-stopping, semi-precious green stone floor, set against a striking antique gold mirrored bar, gold-gilt ceiling and luxurious Asian fabrics. The Geisha Room, a stunning private room with bespoke mirrored artwork, is also available to hire privately. So we’ll have two private rooms for those who want either private dining or to host a party.
“Finally, on the top floor, our Roof Garden has a fully retractable roof and is open all year round. Their guests can enjoy food and cocktails amidst greenery, roaring fire- pits and colourful fabrics, creating an enchanting oasis in the heart of Manchester. We’re also arranging an exciting mix of guest DJs, and events to entertain our guests on each of its four floors. “
It’s evident that the two main priorities in any successful restaurant are the food and the staff. The General Manager is Kate Cooper responsible for ensuring the wheels run smoothly. While Executive Chef Sean Burbidge is accountable for the overall menu for The Ivy Collection with Steve Scoullar as Senior Head Chef, Jason Annette as Head Chef and Luke Mason as Bar Manager.
At only thirty-five, Baton is the head supremo in charge of developing The Ivy Collection and masterminding this new development. His own story is a remarkable one. “I was born into an intellectual family as my father is a scientist with a couple of degrees and my mother is a teacher. Originally I wanted to be a lawyer but we lived in Kosova, and twenty years ago, during the troubles, my parents sent me to this country for safety when I was only 15 years old. I spoke no English, had no money, and although I could speak Serbo-Croatian and Turkish - that was no help getting a job in London.
“I had to find work to pay for food and lodgings, so I got a job washing the floors in a restaurant called Quo Vadis, moving onto glasses and dishes. I taught myself English, and within four months I graduated to being a sommelier, guiding guests on their choice of wine, and was able to start sending money home to my family. ”
From there, Baton’s C.V. reads like a good food guide as he worked his way up the ladder at among other restaurants, Quaglino’s, the Harrington Club, The Savoy Grill and the St Martin’s Lane Hotel. “I decided I wanted an overview of the industry ranging from good restaurants, night-clubs and hotels which proved a valuable experience. All the time I was meeting people who were the movers in the industry, and I finally found a home at The Ivy.”
Baton has enjoyed a meteoric rise in his chosen career and always held the credo that family is everything. He still sends money home to help them. He also really cares about the well-being of his staff. “We’ve employed 250 new staff in Manchester, and over the last six months I’ve been sending them to London to train and study why The Ivy has such a good reputation.”
When I joke if he’s married to the job, Baton laughs out loud. “I know that’s what my wife thinks but she understands as she worked for me part-time in London while she was an architecture student! Holly and I have only married this August, and we brought some of my family over for the wedding. We’ll have another celebration in Kosova, but we’ve not even had time yet to have our honeymoon!”
The principal subject of food is in the capable hands of Executive Chef, Sean Burbridge, from Billingham in Stockton-on-Tees. At the age of fifteen, he was working part-time in a gastropub where he discovered his passion for good food. He trained locally before working his way around hotels in Yorkshire, and the Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon, before moving to London to work at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. His culinary skills took him to Gordon Ramsay au Trianon at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace Versailles where they were awarded their second Michelin star within 12 months of opening. He returned to London as Head Chef of Petrus in Knightsbridge before joining The Ivy Collection.
“Being Executive Chef is an important role in the sense of bringing everything together,” Sean tells me. “ When you open a restaurant, it’s vital that the whole team, both front of house and back of house, support each other. I worked closely with Steve Scoullar, our Senior Head Chef and Head Chef, Jason Annette, to develop the menus and also helped with recruitment and staff training. I then visit all The Ivy Collection sites – sometimes announced and sometimes unannounced!”
Sean is a hard taskmaster about standards.” I’ll be spending as much time as possible in Manchester in the coming weeks to offer any required support. We already have a great kitchen team behind us in Manchester, including Steve, who previously worked as Head Chef at The Ivy St Helen’s Square in York. The senior kitchen team have been in training with us for between three to six months, and I have every confidence in them. And all our ingredients are carefully sourced from trusted suppliers.”
With my mouth already watering at the thought I wondered what we could expect to eat on different floors? “I want our menus to be all-encompassing. So in The Ivy Brasserie, we’ll serve classic British dishes like slow-cooked shoulder of lamb as well as lobster linguine, and truffled orzo pasta. Our Brasserie menu, which is available on the ground floor and the Roof Garden, is similar to The Ivy Collection’s London menus. Our menus change seasonally, and so we opened in Manchester with our winter menu, featuring some new dishes to suit the season, including roast pumpkin soup and chicken bourguignon with chestnut mushrooms. “
Is there such a thing as The Ivy signature dish? “For me, a signature dish is a dish that you add to the menu, and it becomes so popular that you can’t take it off again. We have a few dishes on our menus which meet this criterion including our Ivy shepherd’s pie and iconic melting chocolate bombe. “
However, I gather there’s also a new departure for The Ivy? “ That’s right,” Sean replies.” On the second floor, there’s a brand new Asian-inspired restaurant, bar and concept from The Ivy Collection. The Ivy Asia’s menu is completely new with Asian inspired cocktails and dishes including everything from flamed Wagyu beef to Thai sea bass with coriander. Many of these recipes our Head Chef discovered on his travels around Asia.”
I decided to ask Sean the same question I put to Baton. As Manchester is a city full of good restaurants how can you compete with the others?
“You’re right. Manchester has a thriving food scene and some great restaurants. We are looking forward to adding to the city’s existing offerings, providing guests with easy all-day dining, whatever the occasion. We are open seven days a week, from dawn until late, whether those living or working in the area are looking for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, cocktails or weekend brunch. Guests should expect good food and service alongside beautiful and striking surroundings. We are hoping to provide open dining for all occasions with a touch of glamour. We want The Ivy Spinningfields to be a place that everyone can enjoy.”
Baton sums up: “We are incredibly excited to bring The Ivy Collection to Manchester, and we can’t wait to showcase our different dining concepts. We’ve already made contacts with local businesses and residents, and we look forward to meeting many new friends. We hope to bring something new and exciting to this fascinating city.”
OPENING TUESDAY 27TH NOVEMBER
The Ivy Spinningfields, The Pavilion, Byrom Street, Manchester M3 3HG
w: theivymanchester.com | t: 0161 503 3222