• The Ivy Cafe

Food

Q&A: Thasanee Robinson

The general manager of The Ivy Café on what to expect from the new outpost of one of London’s most famous restaurants

Interview: Viel Richardson
Images: Alice Mann

How long have you been working for The Ivy group?
Only a month or two. I was brought in specifically to open The Ivy Café. But I feel like I’ve been here for ages—in a good way. Everyone has been very welcoming and it has been extremely busy since I arrived.

Where were you before?
I was the general manager of Theo Randall’s restaurant at Park Lane. It was very different to what we want here—more of a destination, special occasion type of restaurant, as opposed to a neighbourhood restaurant which is what The Ivy Café is all about.

What can the Marylebone public expect from The Ivy Café?
I am always very careful to call this place The Ivy Café, because it has its own defined personality, very different to The Ivy restaurant in Soho. We want something that is friendlier, cosier when you walk in. A place where local residents and workers feel they can just drop in for a quick bite to eat. We want it to be accessible to everyone.

Of course you can come here for a formal dinner and enjoy excellent food and service, but we want people to feel equally at home sitting down with a newspaper at breakfast, coming in for a business lunch or taking a few minutes out while shopping in Marylebone. We need to make sure that we can offer that in lovely relaxed surroundings.

How did you approach the menu?
There are dishes that have been specifically created for this site that you will not find in any other Ivy restaurant. Our executive chef, Sean Burbidge, wanted to take the classics from the Soho branch but give them a little something different—more variety, with more of a contemporary feel.

How would you describe the food?
I would say it’s modern European with a twist. We are always looking to do something that adds a little extra to our dishes. The duck curry has proved incredibly popular. We have the lobster risotto if you want to indulge, or a fillet steak, and a tasty selection of salads when you want a lighter option. There’s also a variety of vegetarian dishes. We do not want to be one of those places where the vegetarian guests feel like an afterthought.

 

Thasanee Robinson of The Ivy Cafe

What’s the drinks offering like?
The cocktails are the responsibility of our executive bar guy Jeremy Evans, who looks after the menus for the group. He decided on a really condensed cocktail menu, so he created six permanent cocktails. But the bar staff know how to mix all the other cocktails, so you can have anything you like.

We have a negroni tasting set which is lovely, and an espresso martini which comes with three different infusions so you can sweeten it to your own taste—there is a bit of fun to be had there. On Saturday there was a variation of martini on most tables. It’s lovely seeing how the day plays out.

The bar is right in the centre of the restaurant. Why is that?
In some places it is stuck in a corner, but here you are part of the general ambience—you don’t feel either exposed or hidden away. You can dine at the bar as well, which gives you more flexibility. It also means you still feel part of the restaurant if you’re dining by yourself.

What are the responsibilities of a general manager, especially one opening a new restaurant?
In some regards the title sums it up. You are responsible for everything: the welfare of staff, making sure the business is financially viable and ensuring all legal requirements are met.

What do you do day-to-day?
It varies. I normally arrive for the breakfast service and my first job is to check on the teams, make sure they are happy and have what they need. Then it’s off to the office for the mountain of admin that running a restaurant entails.

Being a new restaurant, there have been extra responsibilities that I have really enjoyed, like setting up the kitchen and front-of-house systems, hiring and training staff, talking to suppliers, arranging delivery schedules. Once a decision about the restaurant has been finalised, it is my responsibility to make sure it happens.

What about the fun stuff?
Recipe testing is definitely one of the fun parts of the job because I love food, but there is a serious side to it. The food we offer is fundamental to our success, so testing is quite intensive. My favourite part of the job is being on the restaurant floor, meeting the customers.

They are the heart of what we do. I love to chat to them, see how they are getting on, ask why they’re in Marylebone. You get to see what’s working, what’s not working quite so well, and you are in a position to fine tune things and help the place evolve.

How’s it going so far?
There’s been a lot of really constructive feedback both from people who know our other restaurants and new guys who have come in. We invited some of the locals who were walking past to pop in before we opened, and getting their ideas is something I really enjoyed.

What’s nice about the restaurant is that the atmosphere changes through the day: relaxed in the morning, a bit buzzier and energetic at lunchtime and then there’s a certain charm in the evening, when the lights are down and the tablecloths are on. That’s something we will really try to maintain.

How have you found Marylebone?
It’s something you hear a lot, but there is genuinely a neighbourhood feel that you do not get elsewhere. People are coming in who have lived in the area for 20 or 30 years. We want to create a place they will still be coming to in 10 years’ time. We want them to feel that The Ivy Café makes Marylebone a little better—that it suits the area. That’s our real aim.