The Ape and Bird Public House, Shaftesbury Avenue, London

28 Nov

When I told Russell Norman that I was initially a bit sad when the Marquis of Granby pub at the top of the road where I work closed, he replied “really?” with a look of disbelief on his face. Russell, sometimes when you work in a pressured environment such as retail – closest pub for a gin and tonic takes precedence over “best location”.

It’s fair to say now that he has snagged “best location” for his latest venture of The Ape and Bird which opens next week.

The Marquis of Granby may have not been the best pub but it was an old boozer and conveniently located on the way home. You could often find most of my office stood in a circle inside or outside the pub on pretty much any evening having a drink. A drink, which would eventually lead to five. I even ate lunch there once which was a mistake. Their fish and chips were awful and unless I’m at a Wetherspoon pub or a football match, I DO NOT expect to be served condiments in sachets.

Anyhow the Marquis of Granby closed its doors and hoarding went up. I don’t know what kind of state that pub was in but the next 11 or so months saw the ripping out of the probably rotting guts of the pub. Fancy scaffolding preserving the exterior of Theatreland went up and workmen were working on the building for what felt like forever. We wondered “would it be a restaurant?” It certainly looked like it. Gradually as the building took shape it started to look pub like again. So were they simply refurbishing the old pub? Because the backing of the original sign remained and it looked like they were attempting to retain it.

Then one day on my way to work, I noticed wooden apes hanging down from the corners, and a sign that said “The Ape and Bird”. Hmm, sounded familiar… I’m addicted to restaurant news – this name rang bells in my head but I couldn’t pinpoint why. As quickly as the apes and signs went up, a couple of days later they were down again. What was going on? Someone was messing around with my head! I just wanted to know what was happening!

In the meantime, with a little research, I found out that it was to be Russell (a la Polpo and Spuntino) Norman’s newest addition to his ever-growing restaurant list. At the top of my road! The excitement! I couldn’t contain it.

Watching carefully from the side-lines, I waited until their opening this week and popped along treating my friend for her birthday at the soft launch. The restaurant officially opens next week however they are soft launching today and tomorrow. I managed to snag a 12pm lunch booking for today. Of course I starved myself in anticipation bar the toffee nut latte I clutched at my desk nursing a slight hangover this morning. We were literally the first customers in the door. So “first” that we walked in on the staff briefing and were kindly ushered to the bar (another building Norman has taken over) next door. Russell Norman was ever so casually walking around and I watched in awe (celeb status).

the ape and bird public house

the ape and bird public house

the ape and bird public house

the ape and bird preview menu

My favourite dish has to be the Devilled Kidneys on Toast. I never liked offal as a child. My mum (or dad I can’t remember who used to cook it now) cooked kidneys and liver sometimes when I was younger and they just didn’t have a knack for cooking it in a way that tasted good.

Black people can’t cook offal – they don’t COOK it, they just cook it. Now these dishes have long enjoyed a revival on restaurant menus and they are luxury. Restaurants know how to cook both well. Devilled Kidneys on Toast, with a rich gravy and served on a sour dough bread. Absolutely nothing to fault – it’s my heaven. I even managed to convince Denise to try it and although in her words, she’s usually “not that good” with those sort of dishes. I had to eat most of it though…

devilled kidneys on toast at the ape and bird public house

Pig Trotter Scotch Egg is a close favourite behind the Kidneys. Soft yolk, perfectly crumbed coating – celeriac fries!

pig trotter scotch egg celeriac fries

I wasn’t a particular fan of the Rabbit Terrine. I didn’t eat it and think wow – and that’s a real shame. It wasn’t bad – just not memorable. Unfortunately we didn’t finish it.

rabbit terrine pickled carrots

We shared just three starters as they were designed as dishes to share whereas the mains were very much main courses for one. Seeking our waiter’s advice I asked what dishes he liked from the main. He said he liked the Winter Chowder – which is good as that’s what I had my eye on. He said he was from Belgium so loves mussels. It was the dish that appealed to me the most so I went for it. It was lovely – I was expecting a larger portion however it was perfect – especially following the starters.

winter chowder scottish mussels and black cabbage

I tried a bit of Denise’s cod and it was very flavoursome. I don’t know why but when I saw cod on the menu in my head I had battered (conditioning!) but it wasn’t at all. The beetroot looked good – I love beetroot.

roast cod charred beets kale and walnut pesto

truffled cheesy fries

We had truffled cheesy fries as a side. They were nice but just fries. I actually would have loved a side of macaroni cheese – truffled mac and cheese would have been great! Apparently there may be plans to have mac and cheese at the bar next door but not on the main restaurant menu.

I can see this being a regular haunt – perhaps not as often for food (could be expensive habit!) but the bar next door – oh yes I can see a fair few stools being occupied on a regular basis with work colleagues and alike. It’s a gorgeous design and totally worth the wait – there isn’t a crevice of bar or restaurant that hasn’t lovingly been paid attention to – down to the taps in the loos which I was ordered to take a photo of by Denise for house inspiration.

the ape and bird public house bar

the ape and bird public house basement dive bar

The Ape and Bird Public House basement dive bar

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