Ape & Bird is the new dining spot from the Polpo team but this time they’ve taken an old pub (formerly the Marquis de Granby) and added their personal style. The menu is still posh pub grub, but it’s impeccably executed, well presented, and the staff couldn’t be friendlier despite the mad chaos of the soft open last night. The décor has improved from what I remember with the street level dining area and pub maintain the retro dark wood interiors but the upstairs dining room taking it up a notch in terms of class and style with a full wall mural that’s pretty epic (and reminiscent of a Where’s Waldo book page). I wish they had a cloak room or some more coat hooks as we were tripping over coats and bags, but in the scheme of things it’s not that bad – and for the food I’ll forgive them that little bit.
I managed to grab a table during the soft open last night (credit to @Wilkes888 for that) with a friend. The soft open continues tonight so get on down and enjoy 50% off food!
Conveniently, Ape & Bird is a drinking establishment first as evidenced by no less than three separate bars. There is the dining area bar which you can grab a stool and order food, the main public house bar in the bar with a fairly expansive dedicated area, and then there is the chill jive bar downstairs with a longer cocktail list as well as some cosy looking booths. So yes, something for everyone.
If you prefer to meet up at a different place, I’d suggest Cork & Bottle at Leicester Square for wine or Covent Garden Cocktail Club from some decent cocktails.
What’s to eat?
The preview menu for the soft open was missing a few items, but all the interesting (to me at least) stuff was readily available. I had the greatest intention to go for the steak, but then the cheeseburger floated past and I had to get it. Together with my dining companion, we order the crab on toast and chives, pear, blue cheese, and walnut salad to start followed by the cheeseburger and whole trout for mains. Sides included the truffled cheesy fries, fried sprouts with bacon, and cauliflower and cheese.
The starters were excellent with the salad just pipping the crab on toast but I’d easily order both of those again. The burger was surprisingly good although a bit of a messy proposition to eat. A&B’s burger is a perfect example of a classic dish down extremely well as each component comes together perfectly to support each other rather than competing for the top spot. From the pink juicy beef patty, to the soft, slightly chewy bun, to the creamy tangy sauce, it all worked and I demolished that bad boy in mere seconds.
We had selected fish to avoid a meat overload (although I still maintain no such thing exists) and I’m pretty happy we did given the trout was flaky and tender with a well balanced level of seasoning. I rarely order fish at a restaurant given my picky standards for seafood, but damn this was so good I found myself wondering if we shouldn’t have opted for the cod as well.
On the sides, the cheese used on the fries quickly congealed around overly dry and crispy fries which made it a fairly unappetising combination. The cauliflower was drowning in cheese so be wary if that’s not your thing. The sprouts, however, stood out – particularly given that brussel sprouts are one of the few things I actively dislike. For me, they’ve always been bitter and cloying yet A&B sprouts were excellent with the dry fry approach leaving them crispy while the smoky bacon adding a good dose of flavour. I’d actually come back and eat those again – something I never thought I’d say about those little green buggers.
Finally, dessert – sticky date pudding. It’s excellent with a moist cake studded with smashed dates (you will get the strong taste and texture of the dates in each bite) with a sweet toffee syrup. An absolute win in my book – especially that it’s served with ice cream rather than the custard that seems to be the British staple.
Thirsty? Grab a drink!
With three separate bars, there is indeed something for everyone. The dining area and public bar only serve four classic cocktails: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Americano (Campari, M&R sweet vermouth, and soda), and a Damson Sour. Naturally, we got all four over the course of dinner and in general they were well made with a good balance to taste and alcohol. The only gripe I’d have is that for the price (£8), the cocktails are pretty small so they lose out in value for money.
I tend to shy away from Campari as I find it to be overpowering. The Americano was a good balance with the dilution from the soda making it a very refreshing drink that acted as an excellent digestif. The bartender shared his story behind the Americano saying that it came about because Americans couldn’t handle the potent Negroni and asked for something lighter. I don’t know if it’s true, but I like it.
Worth the dosh?
At 50% off, damn straight. At full price, for food I’d definitely be back but I’m having second thoughts about the cocktails. Starters and desserts run about £6-9 while mains range from £9 (the burger) to £18 (trout and rib eye). Given the prime location, it’s quite reasonable and will undoubtedly do great business as a pre- and post- theatre spot.
But just for drinks? They are tasty but with the range of cocktail bars within easy walking distance I just don’t see it. I’d rather go down to CGCC or LAB with a much larger cocktail list and more bang for your buck.
Find Ape & Bird here
142 Shaftesbury Avenue
London, WC2H 8HJ