‘I only have one regret after enjoying a belated birthday meal at The Ivy’

New rules state that food and drink businesses in England with over 250 employees must display calorie information on their in-person and online menus. The government has introduced these measures in a bid to allow consumers to make “healthier” and more informed choices when dining out or ordering takeaways.

However, most people would argue that going out for a meal is meant to be an enjoyable experience, something you do as a treat or for a special occasion. For many, being forced to see calories on menus takes the joy away, especially for those with eating disorders.

As Diane Bourne from the Manchester Evening News said: “Do we really want to know the calorific damage of our food choices on a meal out? Is it better not to know? Or will knowing all the calories laid out before you really change the way you order when eating out? ”

According to Diane, there was only one way to find out, and as she was heading to one of Manchester’s busiest restaurants, The Ivy on Spinningfields, this week, it was a chance to see how it’s all working on the old calories on menus front .

Here is how she got on.

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about the whole idea and if it would change how I think about ordering. Until, that is, I ordered the sorts of things I usually do and saw just how many calories I’d been racking up.

So for those wondering what is the point of putting calories on the menu, I think my immediate answer would be to stop people like me doing exactly what you’re about to read that I did. And that is, accidentally consuming a whopping 4,000 calories in one meal. Gulp.

Just to be clear on the rules that have just been introduced, large restaurants with 250 employees or more are now obliged by law to provide calorie information on menus to customers, while smaller restaurants are also being encouraged to do so voluntarily. It only applies to food, not alcohol at this stage, weirdly, which seems to me a very odd thing indeed given you can easily rack up another 1,000 or so calories on your vino, cocktails or beer intake when you’re dining out.

Some restaurants and fast food companies have already been doing this for years – pub giant Wetherspoons springs to mind as an early adopter having put calories on its menus for the past five years on all food and drink. Although it does not seem to have stopped the nation chomping on Wetherspoons’ ever-popular big breakfasts, curries, burgers and chips in that time does it?

In Manchester, the restaurants affected by the new rules include the likes of San Carlo, Gusto, Hawksmoor and The Ivy Collection, as larger businesses with branches across the UK. At the moment, with the new guidelines still pretty fresh, individual venues seem to be making up their own minds as to how they present the calories to diners.

Most hospitality businesses, mindful that for some customers the idea of ​​seeing calories can be a source of anxiety, seem to be doing a bit of mix and match with the menus so that if you request them without calories this can easily be done.

However when I headed to The Ivy with my friend this week, there was no sign of the calories on the printed menus we were given. It was only when I noticed a small card on the table with a QR code on to find allergen information that I was then able to access the full calorie details for all dishes on the menu on my phone.

Upon loading the menu online, it immediately flashed up with a box to inform me that 2,000 calories is the recommended daily calorie allowance, to help with choosing your dishes wisely.

I asked our waitress why the calories were not displayed on the menu, and she said she was not sure if new ones were being ordered. After my meal, I asked The Ivy for comment on this and a spokesperson said: “In line with the new legislation for calorie labeling, we are pleased to provide guests with calorie information via our online menu and on printed menus.”



Duck liver parfait was worth every calorie

Anyway, by co-ordinating the menu on the phone (with calories) with the printed one in front of us (without), we were able to play a bit of a “guess the calories” game, having already chosen what we would like to eat, to then look on the App to see if we were right about which were low in calories and which were high. This, it turns out, was quite an interesting diversion albeit one that sprang a fair few shockers along the way.

I mean, who knew there were 1,513 calories in an Eggs Benedict? Or a whopping 1,198 calories in baked miso eggplant? You’ll be pleased to hear the blackened cod fillet is as saintly as it sounds though – coming up as one of the lowest calorie options at The Ivy at 349.

My visit was not intended to be a Man v Food type challenge – far from it. I was simply choosing exactly what I fancied to eat that night, as I often do when I’m dining out.

But on this occasion, I would have to face up to the consequences of what that looked like in cold, hard calories. And it turned out it was all rather sobering.

My choice of starter, duck liver parfait (£ 8.50), weighed in at a jaw-dropping 781 calories, while my friend’s twice-baked cheese souffle (£ 8.75), which I reckoned would have been a much heftier calorific choice than mine, was actually a lighter 416 calories.

We had already ordered the sourdough bread (£ 4.50) with butter to nibble on while perusing the menu, only to be left a little agog to discover it was 914 calories. In a portion intended to serve 4, but I’m afraid it was so tasty that we managed to take it on between two of us. Whoops.

But here’s the rub, that duck liver parfait was without a doubt one of the best ways to spend a sizable chunk of your daily calorie allowance. I’d still order it again if they doubled the calorie count to be honest.

It was a vast square of the creamiest meat surrounded in a casing of butter, topped off with a crunch of nuts and splodge of tasty chutney. Slathered all over two generous slices of brioche toast, it was to my mind the very sort of dish eating out is invented for.

Something you simply could not replicate at home, delivered as a perfect piece of cuisine to savor. The same could be said of the cheese souffle across the table, a huge portion but retaining a lightness in its execution of creamy moreish joy.

For mains, my friend is a huge fan of The Ivy’s steak tartare which you can order as either a starter or a main – the main portion (£ 19.75) coming in at 828 calories. I meanwhile had decided to go for The Ivy Hamburger served with Pancetta and cheese (£ 18.95).

The burger and chips weighed in at a frankly gargantuan 1,462 calories – not entirely a surprise, I suppose, that the burger and chips would work out as one of the most calorific items on the menu. But was it really worth such a sizable calorific investment? Well, I’m afraid the answer on that count was no.



All 1,462 calories of The Ivy burger and chips (Image: MEN)
All 1,462 calories of The Ivy burger and chips

I was utterly staggered by that number of calories and it would have to be something really special to make it worth almost your entire daily allowance. It was a pleasant enough dish, the brioche bun had a delightful sheen, while the burger inside was plump and meaty and it came served with large crisp lettuce leaves and giant gherkins to ensure I at least mined some kind of vitamin amid the decadence.

But the pancetta was like a flabby tongue on top, it really needs to be crisped off at the edges to work on a burger, in my opinion. Meanwhile the cheese used was so bland as to be rendered completely unnecessary in adding any kind of flavor to the dish. About as pointless as calories can get in this instance.

It all made me curse myself for not ordering my trusty favorite dish on previous visits to The Ivy – the classic shepherd’s pie – especially having discovered it clocks in at a mere 397 calories. However, across the table my pal was in ecstasy with his steak tartare – a mound of raw beef cubes topped with a sheen of herbs. And just look at that exquisitely poised egg yolk ripe for bursting.

My cheeky pal tried to encourage me to order the “pyramid of profiteroles” for dessert, which would have weighed in at a mind-blowing 2,797 cals- although that was said to feed four. But I was drawn to the Black Bee honey cheesecake (£ 9.25). Even though that was, gulp, another 749 calories.

When it arrived I have to admit I was feeling pretty darned full. “I’ll just give it a little go” I thought.

And then the waitress came over with …. a giant profiterole with a lit candle wodged into it. “We’ve heard it’s someone’s birthday” she trilled.

“Oh, yes it is … thanks” I meekly smiled through gritted teeth. Wondering where the HELL I was going to fit this into my overstretched gullet as well.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a really lovely touch from what I have to say was an exemplary service on my visit. When you book online at The Ivy it does ask you if you are celebrating a special occasion, and I had ticked the “birthday” box, in case you were thinking I was getting some kind of special calorific treatment from the staff here.

Not wanting to be impolite, I plunged straight in on the profiterole, but I was struggling with the weight of another 200-odd calories in the mix. There was no way I could continue on with the cheesecake I could, even if it was the best darned cheesecake in the world, could I? Could I?

Oh, hang on, I had a little nibble. Then another. And realized that yes, yes, actually The Ivy had presented me with the best darned cheesecake in the world.

I can not adequately describe in words how good this cheesecake was. A fresh, whipped cheesy chocolatey mousse topped with a gleaming sheath of golden honey crust, next to a pile of golden mango sorbet to give it all a fresh icy edge.



"Happy Birthday" (Image: MEN)
“Happy Birthday”

There was even a little white chocolate bee stuck on top, which, despite its cuteness was not spared my demonic demolition in the final torrid feasting frenzy. It was worth every last one of those 749 calories, so I’m afraid I was required to eat every last itty bit. Even the lump of honeycomb on the side.

Totting it all up – the sourdough, the parfait, the burger and the TWO desserts, it worked out at a mind-blowing, belly-busting 3,700 calories. Throw in the three glasses of champers I’d deployed to wash it all down and you’re talking a consumption of 4,000 calories in just under two hours – or the equivalent of two whole days’ worth of calories in one meal.

I mean, I have to be honest, at the end of it I did feel a bit like Mr Creosote (google him, youngsters). But thankfully I did not actually explode in the gilded aisles of The Ivy, and after a long walk back to the train station afterwards felt pretty darned good I’ll have you know.

You might take the moral of this story to be “do not be such a glutton”. But I prefer to think of it as: “do not order burgers at posh restaurants they’re really high in calories and not worth it”.

Ordering the burger was my one big 1,400 calorie regret, but as for the rest of the meal I stand by every last calorific strand of it. Dining out should be a source of enjoyment, which it most definitely was at The Ivy.

And hey it was my birthday so I wanted to eat it all and it’s up to me now to do a bit more running and be a bit more mindful with my food for the rest of the week to counter-balance the splurge.

Otherwise I will put on weight – that’s the simple equation in all this. If we eat too many excess calories each day we pile on the pounds.

But my main takeaway from the experience is this: Even if you think you’re really calorie-savvy (which I thought I was), seeing them written down before you is a pretty interesting read. And it made me realize just how easy it is to swiftly rack up the calories if you’re not really thinking about it.

Burger aside, everything else I ate at The Ivy I would order again without hesitation. But I probably would think a little more carefully about adding extras like bread when we really did not need it.

Ultimately though, is having an occasional splurge night at a nice restaurant the main root of the UK’s obesity crisis? I kind of doubt it.

Will calories on menus somehow curb our collective weight problems? I tell you what, ask me again in a year and let’s see how our waistbands have all drawn in. But my immediate thought is “fat chance”.

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