The Ivy House has turned over a new leaf in recent years.
Where once it was famed for its loyal student following who filled the pub with a permanent fug pre-smoking ban, it’s now built a reputation on its good grub.
The smoke may be long gone but beer-lovers needn’t fret: it still prides itself on the brown stuff and there’s an excellent range of local handpulls, like Maxim Time Lord, as well as cask, craft beers and spirits that change like the wind.
On our visit there was a guest tap of Fyne Ich Bin Ein Berryliner and a Da Mhile Seaweed Gin from Wales on the menu (don’t ask me how to pronounce either). But visit over the next few weeks and they may well have been swapped for other tipples in this veritable curiosity shop of booze.
One thing that is as perennial as the pub’s name though is its pizzas.
Forget frozen flops, this is a place that prides itself on the Italian classic. So much so, they built a pizza oven behind the bar.
And it’s not just for show: as soon as I’d placed our food order, a bloke got to work hand-stretching the dough. I was impressed.
The rest of the menu also seems to laugh in the face of microwaved pub grub, with a range of hand-made burgers, priced from £6.96, named after girls, like the Plain Jane served plain; the Jennifer, Jamaican jerk chicken breast with red peppers and mango chutney or the more Gallic-sounding Emilie, topped with camembert, bacon and cranberry.
The pizzas were also an imaginatively-titled affair, all 20 of them, with monikers like Verona (mozzarella, parmesan, blue cheese and rocket); the Jaipur (curried madras prawns, chilli, mango chutney and yoghurt) and the more locally-inspired Whitburn, topped with local prawns, crab meat and salad. Those who eschew meat needn’t miss out either, with a quarter of the choices being vegetarian.
Not sure we had quite enough carbs, we added some poutine (£4.25) to our order, which is basically Canadian cheesy chips. You thought Sunderland’s takeaways do a good cheesy chips at 2am? The people over the pond just blew them out of the water.
We tucked into dense potato wedges lathered in proper cheese (none of your plastic slice stuff), swimming in gravy and laced with spring onion, just so you get a bit of healthiness. A gluttonous treat. Other cheesy chips need not apply after that.
On to the pizza. As any self-respecting pizza-lover will know, the base is key. This one was thin enough not to detract from the toppings with just the right amount of bite. The toppings were sprinkled liberally and I had plenty of sun dried tomatoes and parma ham (which I’d added for an extra quid) on my Naples (£6.95) to get my teeth stuck into.
If pizza’s not your bag (what’s wrong with you?!), there’s also themed nights, such as cheese and wine on Mondays and burger nights on Thursdays.
In keeping with the informal menu, the vibe is laid back with the ubiquitous stag’s head on the wall, flocked wall paper and Renaissance-style frescoes on the ceilings. It blends together well to imbue the place with that comforting traditional boozer feel.
The only quibble for some may be that it allows dogs and I had to wrestle with an over-friendly hound on our visit as I ordered at the bar.