Food Blog | Cooking Blog
The Ape and Bird, 142 Shaftesbury Ave, Soho, London WC2H 8HJ
Spread over three floors, this 5000 square foot bar and restaurant offers a unique alternative to people who don't like pubs. The dimly lit space is vast, bustling with likeminded youngsters and a vintage industrial decor of exposed vents and murals by local artist, Neil Fox. The old Marquis of Granby public house has been doubled and size and completely transformed, yet the large venue remains surprisingly intimate. It is the latest addition to Russell Norman's gold mine of an empire and everyone is talking about it, so I have high hopes. However, I am always slightly reticent about restaurants that boast a "no reservations" policy, and so I was nervous about trotting in with two friends expecting dinner at 8 pm on a Saturday night. The place was packed. As soon as I saw the number of chattering figures filling the Ape and Bird, I resigned myself to the conviction that my friends and I would be forced to wander aimlessly around Soho in order to find satiation. I was wrong. A friendly and handsome waiter emerged, apologising for the 5 nanosecond wait and telling us that a table will be ready for us in 5 minutes... So far, so good.
The service is infallible. As soon as we sit down, we are poured ice cold filter water from stained glass water bottles and offered a drink. We opt for the esteemed Polpo house red, it is feeling like one of those cosy red wine dinners already. The sand coloured menu place mats abbreviate an endless list of gastropub classics with a typically Italian twist. With no idea as to how we can possibly narrow down our choices, we chose three of the house's most popular entrees: pig trotter scotch egg with celeriac fries, fritto misto, and a chicory, apple and walnut salad with blue cheese dressing. I hate to discredit my own review, but if I am being completely honest, each one is close to infallible. The yolk of the scotch egg is perfectly runny, and the sausage deliciously spiced. What really draws my attention are the celeriac fries - I am always excited by something new. They have a sweeter taste than your typical french fry, they are thin, more rigid in texture and sweeter in crunch. I don't particularly want to share this dish... The fritto misto is delicious, the batter is light and crispy and the fish beneath well cooked. Perhaps I am slightly less blown away by this dish as fritto misto is something that tends to be more outstanding when you are close to the sea and the fish is fresh. I am also slightly disappointed not to have anything to dip my battered calamari rings into, but oh well...
The chicory provides a lovely, bitter and salty fresh taste and something lighter to waken the palette. The blue cheese is mild in relation to the aged Stilton I might have expected, and perfectly harmonises the bitterness of the chicory. Whilst scotch eggs and deep fried things are classic guilty pleasures, I would highly recommend the salad to anyone not wanting to go bananas with the calories before the meal has really begun. It is light, packed with flavour and leaves us in eager anticipation of what is to come...
The roasted cod was served warm, with a salty and taught crispy skin. The meat of the fish itself was slightly dry and in my opinion could have been cooked for a little less time, or perhaps may have benefited from poaching. The mediocre texture was somewhat salvaged, however, by the oven roasted beetroot and rocket pesto sauce. The flavour of the beetroot was strong and earthy and combined beautifully with the saltiness of the garnish. Whether it succeeded in complimenting the taste of the cod, however, did not convince me, as the strong root flavour overpowered the experience of the fish. The lamb (below) was similarly unremarkable. Although the square of shoulder was pink in the centre and tender throughout, the cutlet was tough and chewy. The mint sauce lacked seasoning and was one dimensional, and the cabbage was fine (is cabbage really ever that impressive?).
What was fantastic was the selection of pizzas. My friends and I ended up fighting over the spinach, parmesan and soft egg pizza and the buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil. Simple, and incredibly well proportioned. The dough was light and well salted, with a noticeable base of oregano/olive oil seasoning. The pizzas were easy, delicious, well priced and the ingredients were of a high quality. Greedily, we also ordered side dishes of figs, honey and goat curd, fried sprouts, old ford and bacon and skinny french fries. All three were fantastic, well refined, seasoned to perfection and entirely consistent with the theme of "pub grub" but not as we know it; contemporary cuisine with a strong British accent.
The Ape and Bird desert selection was top notch. Pub favourites prepared well and served piping hot. The sticky date pudding was moist and bouncy in texture with a thick, cinnamon rich treacle sauce, paired harmoniously with a thick and smooth scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream. Not ground-breaking, but cooked to perfection. The "Banoffeeblocker Glory" also gave a stand out performance, although ridiculously indulgent without sparing cookies, whipped cream, ice-cream or toffee sauce.