Rewind 15 years and I was regular to The Ivy House.
Back then it had, how shall I put it, a ‘distinct’ aroma thanks to the lack of smoking ban and a carpet which had been slopped with way too many pints.
But it was still a great local, my first, in fact.
Fast-forward to 2016 and the pub’s undergone a renaissance.
It’s been given a fancy new look with Italian-style frescos adorning the ceilings and vintage nick nacks, such as pottery jugs and Davy Lamps, jostling for space on a Delft shelf.
There’s also the ubiquitous stags’ antlers that are the mainstay of gastro pubs these day. But it’s not off-putting ‘hipster’ and it still manages to retain that traditional friendly vibe - complete with the old Vaux signs outside to remind you of the good old days - that makes it a perennially-popular boozer.
It’s a shame, therefore, that the toilets haven’t appeared to have undergone the same level of makeover. They were as cold and grim as I remember them in the late ‘90s.
The food menu, which is available until 9pm, put the pub back on track. If food was served here back in my student days, it certainly didn’t make enough of an impression for me to remember it. But today its home-made grub is earning it rave reviews on TripAdvisor and word of mouth.
We took a pew near the roaring open fire to try the menu for ourselves. It’s a fuss-free affair of pizzas, burgers and poutine, which is essentially the Canadian version of cheesy chips which you can tailor to your tastebuds with a variety of extra toppings.
What elevates the offering above you average pub grub, however, is the vast choice and the fact everything’s made from scratch - there’s not even a whiff of frozen lasagne here.
There’s no less than 15 pizza options with versions inspired by the pub’s location, such as the Whitburn which is topped with local prawn and crab meat, peppers, red onion, scallions and rocket, as well as more exotic versions, like the Jaipur which features curried madras prawns, fresh green chilli mango chutney, mint yoghurt and fresh coriander. Prices are fair, ranging from £5.75 to £9.25 - you’ve probably paid more for less fresh options from the takeaways down the road in town.
You can also add your own toppings for an additional charge of £1 for meat or 50p for a vegetable extra. I did just that and added chicken and mushroom to the classic Naples. It’s fitting that it should be named after the home of pizza, as they’re the real deal here, stonebaked slices of pizza perfection.
The vast choice extends to the drinks menu. For gin lovers, there’s a good choice from which to choose, with a Hendricks and tonic costing £4.65, which isn’t too steep for a premium brand.
Casks change as often as the weather here with some of the recent handpulls including Wylam Collingwood, Stables Silver Buckles, Border Reiver’s IPA and Titanic Cherry with prices hovering around the £3.95 to £4.80, depending on your choice.
Whatever your poison, there’s a good chance you’ll find it at The Ivy.