Last night my brother and I went out for a bite to eat. Both being fans of Russell Norman, owner of some of my favourite places to eat in London (Spuntino and Mishkins), we headed to his new offering, Ape & Bird, on Shaftesbury Avenue. This is his sixth opening since 2009 when Polpo opened on Beak Street. However, this is a departure from his Italian or New York vibe, this is very much a British ‘pub’, but one that is a pleasure to hang out in. It is on the site of the former Marquis of Granby on Cambridge Circus. Not just that, but he also bought the place next door and knocked it through to create a huge space which now consists of three floors, three bars and a 120-cover restaurant.
Ape & Bird still has a very eclectic and relaxed feel to it…dark green leather banquettes, rusty tin ceilings, iron chandeliers inspired by some spotted in Balham underground, antique wall lights and pots of herbs which line the window sills.
The place really is huge. My brother and I were seated in the upstairs restaurant area and it took me what seemed like an age to get to the toilet. I walked down the stairs, past a bar, through into another bar, down another flight of stairs and then through yet another bar. This last bar seems a lot ‘cooler’, more of a dive bar, darker, more intimate.
The Ape & Bird’s menu offers simple and down to earth dishes with a very British accent, put together by Tom Oldroyd, the group’s chef director. I found it quite hard to decide what to have, mainly because I wanted a bit of everything, but luckily my brother and I have similar taste in food so at least we could share.
For my main I opted for sauté of penny buns (these are ceps by the way. Did you know that? Or am I the only person not to know what penny buns are?), squash, salsify and roasted garlic (£7).
This dish was a delight. The sweetness of the squash purée worked perfectly with the earthy mushrooms and the delicate salsify, and the soft garlic which oozed out of its skin when I pressed my fork on it just took it to a whole other level. I loved it.
My brother ordered the pig trotter Scotch egg with celeriac fries (£7)…
This was a fantastic scotch egg. The yolk was still very soft, the meat had so much flavour to it and the crust was very crispy and yet incredibly light. It was the perfect dish to eat on a wet, cold December evening. If I worked nearer Cambridge Circus, I reckon I’d be in Ape & Bird most lunchtimes for one of these bad boys.
For my main I went for the roasted cod with kale, charred beets and walnut pesto (£16)…
Now I know kale is really good for you and everyone seems to be eating it or juicing it right now, but can I just put it out there….its really not that pleasant to eat is it? It doesn’t feel nice in my mouth and it really doesn’t taste nice. I can eat a mouthful here, and a mouthful there, but that’s it for me. Luckily, it didn’t distract me from the rest of this dish which was delicious. The roast cod was pearly white and melted in my mouth and I thought it worked brilliantly with the charred beets. It was light and earthy at the same time. Lovely.
My brother went for the pie of the day which was chicken, leek and mushroom (£12)…
He described it as “glorious”. Very light, buttery pastry and an incredibly tasty filling that didn’t verge on being stodgy at all.
I didn’t even try his pie as I was too excited by our side dish of fried sprouts with bacon and grated Old Ford, a hard salty goats cheese (£5)…
I will return to Ape & Bird for these sprouts, if for nothing else. I am a huge fan of sprouts at the best of times. I have no idea why they get such bad press, they’re one of my favourite vegetables and I’d love to see them on more menus. But these ones…wow. I normally love my sprouts simply steamed and topped with lots of flaked salt but fried? Everything is better when its fried and these are no exception. And with the addition of those chunks of bacon and the cheese? Divine. I will definitely be trying to recreate this at home and will probably introduce it at this year’s Christmas dinner. Please try these if you go. My brother is not normally a fan of sprouts and he loved them too.
We also got a side order of truffled cheesy fries (£5) which were also delicious. How could they not be?
By this point I was stuffed but I still wanted to try a pudding. The dessert menu had some good offerings including blackberry and apple crumble, bannoffeebocker glory, sticky date pudding…I wanted to try all of them, but I ended up going for the flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake (£6)…
Now I’m not sure if I was just too full but this didn’t hit the mark for me. It was very dry and crumbly and I felt like it was begging for some fruity sweetness, a raspberry coulis would have been amazing with it. Just something to lift it a bit and give it a bit of moisture. I also had pudding envy from the table next to us who were tucking into their sticky date puddings and they looked amazing.
Overall, we had a fantastic night. Our waitress Georgina couldn’t have been more lovely and helpful. She was enthusiastic about the menu and really helped us to choose well. She was there when we needed her, but not hanging around us and interrupting when we didn’t. The great service mixed with the fantastic wine, the incredible food and a fab atmosphere will definitely bring me back. I need to have more of those fried sprouts and I have a feeling I will be sampling more of those Scotch eggs over the next few weeks too. Definitely worth checking out.