Timothy Barber
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IT may not be a surprise to spot actors at luvviedom’s favourite restaurant, The Ivy, but you don’t generally expect them to be performing. However, anyone having dinner at there next week will witness exactly that, in what I suppose you could call the year’s most exclusive show. Actors will be seen gliding between tables, striking poses on a small area cleared for a stage, and even bursting into song, in a specially-commissioned show by esteemed playwright Sir Ronald Harwood. Not exactly the usual accompaniment to a hearty Shepherd’s Pie.

It’s all because The Ivy is celebrating a birthday – its 20th in its current manifestation. Amazing to think that, back in 1990 when restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King bought it, the place had closed after falling on hard times. It originally opened in 1917, becoming a theatreland stalwart before going out of favour in the ‘80s

Since then, of course, it’s been the shining light of London’s restaurant revival (it’s now owned by Richard Caring) and a gossip column staple, numbering the Beckhams, George Clooney and Madonna among regular guests. Tom Cruise took Nicole Kidman there and returned with Katie Holmes, and even The Queen and Prince Philip ate there. Unlikely her Maj had the famous Ivy burger, one imagines.

Harwood’s play is in fact more amuse bouche than main course: a 20-minute bit of fun about the original owner returning as a ghost to discover the glamorous place his former café became (it’s being performed every week night next week at 9pm).

If that might seem a luvvieland in-joke too far for some, it’s worth remembering that a big part of The Ivy’s success is how readily it combines glitz with (relative) normality. Far from London’s smartest restaurant but probably its most famous, it’s a place of easy bonhomie and unpretentious class, hidden within those cosy art deco surrounds. Here’s to the next twenty years.