ESCAPE rooms are an increasingly popular activity for groups of work colleague and friends.
But I’ve got an alternative for you.
Try getting into one of the many Ivy Brasserie restaurants that seem to have sprung up like knotweed around the UK over the past 12 months.
If you do manage to get through the portals then your reward will be memorable – an overpriced meal and service which is painful.
The staff are neither obsequious or arrogant, they just have a unique way of conveying the message that you are lucky to be there and they are doing you a huge favour.
If this was the original Ivy – the century old restaurant in Covent Garden which has long been a magnet for celebrities – you might understand.
But it was the Ivy Brasserie in Harrogate, one of 16 that have been opened in an aggressive strategy by Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings in recent months.
And celebs are in shorter supply in the spa town.
Although I did see a local bank manager dining there who is a bit of a star – he gave out two business loans in the first half of the year, more than most are allowed to do.
The latest Ivy opened its doors in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds this week.
I did get an invite to the opening night, but after my experience in Harrogate last Saturday evening, couldn’t be bothered to go.
When I visited the original Ivy some years ago I was impressed by every aspect of the place – food, service, decor and value for money.
There was a decent smattering of celebs dining but nobody bothered them, they were too busy enjoying their own experience.
I remember leaving the restaurant and seeing a group of paparrazi photographers on the pavement outside.
I did pull my best pout but they didn’t raise their cameras.
The Ivy Brasseries strike me as being like the offspring of a very wealthy self-made tycoon who remembers where they came from, treat people with respect and keep a firm grip on reality.
Their children, having grown up not wanting for anything, often lack a work ethic and the ability to value anything other than money and possessions.
So they aren’t very likeable.
Despite us booking a table to eat at the Ivy in Harrogate last Saturday afternoon the lady on the front desk could not find a record of it and even when we showed her an email confirmation from the restaurant booking website she still appeared bemused, staring at her screen while saying “Sorry” every 10 seconds.
Clearly she wasn’t very sorry.
While we stood waiting in the lobby, wondering if we would receive clearance to enter the restaurant itself, she forwarded our email confirmation to her email address so she could investigate further and meanwhile other guests waited on the pavement behind us.
Eventually we were granted entry and found the restaurant half empty.
I asked if we could have a drink at the bar until our guest arrived and we were granted grudging permission.
Our guest arrived looking slightly flustered and muttering about “it being easier to get into Fort Knox”.
After a drink we decided to go to our table but despite asking three different members of staff all said: “Yes, just a moment please,” then disappeared.
I came to the conclusion that the job of showing us to our table was either above, or below, their pay grade.
When we did eventually get there the waiter busied himself clearing the cutlery from the spare place on the table, rather than offering to take a drinks order.
And when the wine did arrive it was placed in an ice bucket several metres away from our table. I don’t mind that, but if that is what a restaurant does, then for goodness sake, make sure the waiting staff offer to top glasses up on a regular basis.
When another waiter came to take our order he did so by greeting each course ordered with the exclamation: “Amazing!”
I almost ordered a glass of water to see if he greeted that with equal delight.
The food at the Ivy isn’t bad. The wine list has a nice selection but each bottle looks overpriced by at least a tenner.
And when you get your bill an automatic 10% service charge has been added to it.
The combination of which doesn’t leave a very good taste in the mouth.
The last place I went to where they tried to keep guests waiting in the lobby was Jamie’s Italian.
And look what happened to that.
Well they had the gall to blame the demise of many of the outlets on Brexit.
Instead of below average food and very poor service.
Give me an individually-owned restaurant any day.
The Ivy, is, as they used to say, all fur coat and no knickers.
I ATTENDED a welcome drinks reception for a trade mission of American business people at the impressive Dakota Deluxe Hotel in Leeds on Wednesday.
The event was hosted by Traveleads, Santander and law firm Clarion and the US visitors, despite a hectic schedule, were enthusiastic, engaging and fun company.
Chatting to one entrepreneur, he told me he lived in a sea front property in Rhode Island that had 27 rooms, five fireplaces and “32 nesting swans”.
It prompted me to look around my own garden.
Where I counted three loose paving slabs, a rusting barbecue, two nesting sparrows and next door’s cat relieving itself in the shrubbery.
Have a great weekend.