The Ivy – Birmingham

if i said to you ‘The Ivy’ you’d probably get images of the star-studded restaurant in London and think of a huge waiting list and high prices.

What if we told you that The Ivy has expanded and now has more local restaurants in some of the UK’s greatest places, including Brighton, Leeds and Birmingham and that at the end of the meal you won’t feel like a pelican with a whopping great big bill in front of you?

We booked The Ivy for our 1st wedding anniversary on 24th May; the anniversary is actually the 26th, but we had tickets for a show so decided to celebrate early!

The menu at The Ivy is varied with classic British dishes such as fish and chips or shepherd’s pie contrasting perfectly with more modern, international fare such as monkfish and prawn curry or crab linguine. With that in mind, The Ivy seems to offer something for all tastes.

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The beautiful rainbow of flowers outside were presumably there as the weekend saw Birmingham’s pride celebrations taking place. Walking through the door we were greeted by the host who was wearing a fantastic flowered suit which really suited his personality.

The inside of The Ivy, whilst having some eccentric twists in the decor is also very classy as you’d imagine with inspiration being taken from the original Ivy.

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We made an amateur mistake of ordering wine prior to hearing what the day’s specials were! Thinking we were going to opt for a chicken or pork based dish we opted for a bottle of Verdejo, Cuatro Reas from the Rueda region of Spain at £26 per bottle.

On hearing the special dishes we realised we’d want a red wine to go with the fillet steak with duck liver parfait we ordered at £32 each. As we’d already started on the Verdejo it was too late to change so we  ordered a bottle of Nero d’Avola from Sicily which was a bargain at £19.95 per bottle. Not a classic with fillet steak but we know the wine suits our tastes.

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Our steaks arrived and as you’d expect from a restaurant such as The Ivy they were cooked to perfection. Mine was BLUE – I put that in capitals as so many restaurants seem to struggle with the concept or don’t believe the customer genuinely wants a blue steak,

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As you can see from the picture the portion is quite large and we certainly felt it was worth the price paid. This was probably the best fillet steak I’ve ever had,

To accompany our meal we ordered a side of truffle and Parmesan chips and a portion of sprouting broccoli – the Parmesan and truffle whilst both being rich flavours worked together and didn’t compete with each other. The broccoli was wonderfully al dente and the lemon oil brought out the flavour of the young veggies perfectly.

We were unsure about whether to have a dessert, and as we had a show to go to we didn’t want to be too full and therefore declined. We were pleasantly surprised that the restaurant gave us two beautiful miniature raspberry tarts.

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The attention to detail of the small chocolate together with the smooth creme patissiere rounded off an excellent meal. We’d normally dine later in the evening hence not ordering a ‘proper’ dessert.

In terms of service we’d rate it very good; the shift changeover happened while we were sat at the table so it seemed a little odd to have two different waitresses, and we also prefer not to be interrupted whilst eating with the question “is everything O.K.?”. Whilst we completely understand the reason why restaurants do this and it is something I had to do whilst I began to embark on a career in hospitality I for one would prefer attentive service whereby the wait staff know if something is wrong, rather than be asked after just placing a fork-full of food in my mouth.

We had an absolutely excellent time at The Ivy and enjoyed the food more than the previous visit we had for my birthday last year. We will definitely back.

Your guide to MSC ‘Experiences’

All major cruise lines offer different packages based on what cabin grade you book. This can sometimes be an overwhelming amount of information to take in, especially if you’re not familiar with the wording a line uses or if you’re new to cruising.

Generally speaking you’ll find that you get more included with higher priced cabins. From Royal Suites with butler service to a comfortable inside cabin or single person studio, there is so much choice out there!

MSC offer a full range of cabins e.g. inside, ocean view, balcony and suite. On top of that, you have the option of picking your experience from Bella, Fantastica, Aurea and Yacht Club. But what do all these mean?

Bella – the entry point cabin, with insides, ocean view and balconies available. Bella offers a ‘no frills’ experience – you’ll need to pay extra for room service and access to the spa. The cabins might not be in the best locations around the ship so study the deck plan when booking if you have the option to choose your cabin.

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A typical Bella balcony on MSC Preziosa

Fantastica – The Fantastica experience is the next level up from Bella, and offers a few extra perks such as your priority of choice over dining time, a free photograph taken on Mediterranean night in the restaurant, free continental room service breakfast and free delivery of room service (room service items other than breakfast will be at a cost, unless you have the premium plus drinks package). The cabins tend to be in better locations and there is some flexibility with your booking in terms of changing passenger names and dates (refer to the MSC website or your agent for further details).

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A Fantastica balcony on MSC Bellissima

Aurea – Aurea is the spa experience with MSC. On top of the Fantastica experience benefits, this experience offers the Easy drinks package, MyChoice (anytime) dining, access to the spa, a complimentary massage, access to the exclusive sun deck (pictured), a complimentary MED by MSC reed diffuser and a dressing gown and slippers in your cabin.

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The exclusive Aurea sundeck on MSC Preziosa

MSC Yacht Club  – where to start here? The MSC Yacht Club is a ship within a ship concept, with an enclave of luxury cabins at the front of the ship. The Yacht Club has the advantage of it’s own private lounge, sun deck and restaurant with access to the spa area. The Premium all inclusive drinks package is included, together with complimentary room service and mini bar, which is not included elsewhere on the ship unless you have the premium plus drinks package.

The Yacht Club offers butler service, which whilst extremely attentive is also discrete. You’ll be escorted on and off the ship by a butler who, together with the Yacht Club concierge will be your ‘go to’ for any queries or provide any assistance you may need, such as booking speciality restaurants, arranging excursions and even unpacking your suitcase.

The menu for the Yacht Club restaurant is different to the main dining room, and whilst the main dining room is, in my opinion, excellent, the Yacht Club goes one step further with wines paired to the menu and flexible dining offering you the table size you would like at a time you’d like.

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Yacht Club suite, MSC Bellissima

6 Months to Grandiosa!

In exactly six months MSC Grandiosa will be christened in the port of Hamburg. I wanted to share this with you as Andy and I couldn’t be more excited for the maiden voyage as we will join the ship in Hamburg on November the 10th and make our way round to Marseille in the luxurious MSC Yacht Club.

Grandiosa will be MSC’s largest cruise ship to date with an extra 15 metres compared to Meraviglia and Bellissima. The Christening ceremony will be hosted by TV presenter, model and actress Michelle Hunziker who also presented the ceremony for MSC Seaview in 2018. Michelle grew up in Italy and is of Swiss descent. Speaking FIVE languages she embodies the spirit of MSC Cruises.

Highlights of Grandiosa are set to be:

  • The iconic Meditteranean Promenade, the 98.5 metre long LED Domed promenade will be the heart of the ship and a hub for entertainment, shopping and dining experiences
  • Speciality dining from the ever-popular Butcher’s Cut, L’Atelier French Bistrot, Hola! Tapas bar by two-Michelin starred chef Ramon Freixa and Kaito Sushi and Teppanyaki
  • Virtual personal cruise assistant ZOE – Artificial intelligence guest service assistant in each cabin. The ship will also be enabled for MSC’s MSC For Me App which among other functions allows guests to check their account, Daily Programme and find their way around the ship.
  • Two brand new state of the art shows from Cirque du Soleil at Sea. MSC have a unique long term partnership from the world famous company.

MSC Grandiosa will be the third ship of the Meraviglia generation and the first of the Meraviglia-plus class.  She’ll be the 5th new ship launched in just two and a half years as part of MSC Cruises €13.6 billion investment plan for the next ten years.

Grandiosa will be followed by a further 12 ships leading us up until 2027 with MSC Virtuosa being the next ship to launch in October 2020.

We really enjoyed our time at the star studded Christening ceremony of MSC Belissima earlier this year and you can read more about that experience here. We’ve also cruised on MSC Meraviglia and you can read our review of her here.

With so many new ships on their way we’re sure there will be plenty more cruises, blogs and posts to come!

Day 8 – Le Havre

We were planning to go to Honfleur from le Havre but unfortunately we didn’t make it. We’d had a lazy morning after a late night on our final sea day and therefore couldn’t get up early. The weather also didn’t look too kind and as such we decided to just have a walk around the city and were hoping to enjoy some mussels and wine, however it seemed as if the city was shut!

We visited the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral which was a first for us.

Once back onboard we met up with our friends Phil and Patrick and decided we would partake in a few ‘small’ (very large) glasses of wine. We were hoping to get to the main dining room for lunch but were unable to due to being otherwise engaged in liquid libations, as such, a few slices of MSC’s fantastic pizza from the buffet were in order.

For our evening meal we dined in the Galaxy speciality sushi restaurant which is actually part of the disco on deck 16. The restaurant offers stunning views due to its position  on the ship.

We’re not normally big fans of sushi but found the variety included in the complimentary black card meal to be fantastic with a selection of both sushi and sashimi presented in a variety of ways. We also added some extra tempura rolls, although we really didn’t need these!

The service in the restaurant was excellent and we’d highly recommend it. As you’ll see from the menu the prices aren’t bad either, so all in all it was a much better meal than we’ve had when visiting places like Yo! Sushi.

Following dinner we had a get together with some more of the chaps from our group and may have ‘slightly’ over done the booze!

We also needed to pack our cases, which is the saddest part of any cruise, however as we had only half unpacked after changing cabin this wasn’t too bad. We did however have a panic this morning when there were three odd shoes in the cabin and thought that Andy might not have had any to wear for disembarkation. Luckily there was another pair under the bed!

Another bottle of prosecco and plate of strawberries (Black Card benefit) had also been delivered however we certainly didn’t need any more!

 

 

Day 6&7 Hamburg and Sea day

For our day in Hamburg we decided not to get off the ship as mentioned in my earlier post.

We spent the day enjoying a peaceful ship. Hamburg was the end of the grand voyage and therefore many passengers were changing over.

It was great to meet a number of people who follow our blog and page, some of whom booked this cruise because of us sharing what a great deal it was.

We had dinner in the main dining room with some of our friends. It’s a shame that they hadn’t been onboard earlier as that’s the only time we’ll eat with them as we have other dining options to do.

The evenings show was again performed by the Singout Sisters and was a number of 1970s disco tracks. We had a great time dancing in the aisles.

Copious amounts of cocktails ensued as we had a sea day coming which is the ideal time to stay in bed!

For our sea day we were able to look around the Aurea Spa ‘top 18’ private sun deck which offers tranquility with comfortable cabanas to lay in as well as a bubbling Jacuzzi to while away a few hours. Unfortunately it was too cold to actually sunbathe – one of the downsides to Northern Europe cruising in April!

On the way back to the cabin I braved the infinity pool. I managed one length – it was the same temperature as the sea!

As an extra special treat we were taken for dinner in the Yacht Club restaurant and dined with the International Hostess, Ashley and the UK Cruise Director Darren, who some of you may have met on the MSC Magnifica last year. The conversation flowed all night!

The food and service in the restaurant was as you’d expect fantastic! The escargots were particularly tasty and the desserts out of this world.

Our next Yacht Club cruise is the maiden voyage of MSC Grandiosa in November and we cannot wait to be pampered in the luxury enclave.

We have now docked in Le Havre on the final day of our cruise and will be heading to Honfleur shortly.

Day 5 – at sea and cabin change

Our second sea day began with a lay in. Officially this was the last night of the cruise as the Grand Voyage back from the Caribbean has come to an end.

The weather was a bit miserable and we had everything from snow, fog, rain and sun. It was like summer in Cleethorpes.

Our barman friend Rupesh who we’ve met on several cruises assisted us in a journey through the cocktail list!

I had another flutter in the casino and won a decent amount!

Before dinner we attended the MSC Voyagers Club Black Card party and were treated to an excellent performance from the Dance Captain. We also met with the cruise director Darren.

Our dinner with Sue and Bill was enjoyable and we were amongst the last to leave the restaurant. It was our last dinner with them as they have disembarked in Hamburg today.

Dinner was excellent with a Thai themed menu. We eat a lot of Oriental food at home and this was extremely tasty.

The rest of the evening was spent in the various bars, particularly the La Locanda wine bar and the El Dorado cocktail bar. As always the crew are friendly, efficient and provide a great service.

Our evening ended in the casino at about 2am. We had packed earlier in the day ready to change cabin.

As I wrote this we’re now in our new cabin, 9197 which again is a Bella balcony. Changing cabin was easy and our steward took all of our luggage for us. We had to go to reception to sort the bill for the first section and show our passports again in order to get our new cruise cards.

Remember how we upgraded our drinks package? Unfortunately the bill for this was incorrect – we were charged the wrong amount and also charged twice. This was corrected by guest relations without too much trouble, but it was a little shock that our bill was over €100 more.

Our new cabin:

It will be fine for 3 days but could be a bit small for a long cruise.

We’ve decided not to go in to Hamburg today and instead will enjoy the facilities of this beautiful floating resort.

Day 4 – Oslo

I woke up at 5:30am to watch some of the scenery as we sailed through Oslofjord- this is a part of the world we’d never been to before and was something we had been told was stunning.

We didn’t have major plans for the day and so decided to walk round the town and to the sculpture park. Some beautiful buildings and gorgeous spring flowers made for a very pleasant stroll which also took in the royal palace where we saw the changing of the guard. It was surprising to us how close to the palace it’s possible to get when compared to Buckingham Palace.

We were back onboard mid afternoon and enjoyed a hot tub just to ourselves on deck 16.

After drying off we enjoyed a Rocky Road hot chocolate in the Cappuccino bar – these are included on all drinks packages including the Easy package.

We decided to have a go on one of the arcade games and raced each other on motorbikes. The arcade games are at a cost of €1.50.

We took part in the quiz – ‘name the bridge’ and have won two MSC branded bags.

Dinner in the main dining room was very nice, I opted for a smoked salmon timbale starter, risotto main and Bavarian cake dessert

As mentioned previously the evening’s entertainment was an ABBA tribute which we found very good. It’s a shame that many members of the audience didn’t seem too impressed and wouldn’t even clap along.

We ended the evening with a few drinks and have had a lazy morning for our sea day.