The Ape and Bird Public House
142 Shaftesbury Avenue
There are few certainties you can count on but one holds true, KS does not turn down food – you’re more likely to see Kelly Osborne and Lady Gaga sharing afternoon tea than KS missing a meal. Such is the ridiculousness of this thought that it has even lead to KS speaking about himself in the third person. This pleases KS.
Not as pleased though as when he was offered the opportunity of attending the Ape and Bird soft launch by Joel (@Heisenburger1). When this happened, all pre-existing plans (such as sitting on the couch contemplating whether to have a shower) were cancelled – this was an opportunity which could not be passed up.
After a string of successful ventures including hot spots such as Spuntino and Mishkin’s, the Ape and Bird is Russell Norman’s newest trendy London offering but this time with an ironic twist – it is located in the shell of a former pub in one of London’s most tourist heavy areas. Sceptical much? This was something which had to be seen to be believed and that KS had heard much hype about the Ape and Bird only added to the excitement.
KS arrived at 142 Shaftesbury Avenue somewhat confused to find what still looked very much like a pub. Having double checked the address, he was sure he had arrived at the right place. Knowing his propensity for stupidity, he wasn’t convinced until the arrival of Joel, Katy (@Feelgd_Foodbk) and Steve (@3ScoopsPlease) confirmed that fact.
Entering the Ape and Bird, it was clear the pub-like decor extended beyond the exterior as the venue still purposely retained a lot of its former charm and character. The original function of the site has also not been lost as the front dining room is dominated by a central bar which provides a suitable prologue to a second bar at the back of the building where you will find a doorway to the third bar downstairs. In summary, if you walked in looking for a watering hole, you wouldn’t be disappointed.
But that was not the purpose of this visit! Having settled at our table and scanned the menu, Joel proceeded to ordered the blood pudding hash followed by the roast cod; Katy the penny buns and winter chowder; Steve the crab on toast and brown trout; and KS the rabbit terrine and mushroom and chestnut cottage pie. Of course no meal is complete without sides and on this day, truffled cheesy fries and market greens fulfilled that role.
The starters came and they looked bloody good – unsurprisingly, they also had the taste to match. The hash (served with fried sprouts and a poached egg) was rich, the penny buns (with squash and garlic) were deliciously sweet, the crab on toast was creamy as hell and the terrine (with pickled carrots) had a deep gamey flavour which was just pure goodness. For me, the winner of the four was the hash followed by the terrine, the penny buns then the crab – this is based on the intensity of the flavour and I felt in this respect, I got the most out of the hash.
Main events followed soon after to keep the party going and they did not disappoint. The chowder (served with mussels, pancetta and black cabbage) was extremely flavoursome, the cod (served with charred beets, kale and walnut pesto) was cooked to perfection and effortlessly flaking, the trout (served with watercress and a shrimp and tarragon butter) was fresh like it’d just been caught and the cottage pie was fragrant. Personal preference here lent towards the cod, followed closely by the trout then the chowder and the pie – the cod was just faultless and would be my order next time but in saying that, the trout was just as good . I just prefer cod as a fish; the chowder was delicious but I think of soup as a starter (call me barbarian if you will) and the pie, though fantastic in its own right, was just a pie (though what it lacked in imagination, it made up for in size – it was a massive portion).
A combination of a lack of time and appetite meant that we passed on dessert on this visit but with a menu featuring the banoffeebocker glory, the same mistake won’t be made on the return visit – in fact, it’s probably worth going back for…
Meal done, final thoughts are that Ape and Bird is the real deal and lives up to its billing as an eatery that should be respected. The menu is top notch and from what I’ve seen, is also top quality but you do pay for what you get. It’s a great addition to the London food scene in an area where it will no doubt perform admirably as an ambassador for British cuisine.