Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Restaurant review: The Ape & Bird, Shaftesbury Avenue

Russell Norman, more in vogue than allotments or crown-braids right now, recently opened this huge pub on Cambridge Circus.  
The man behind Mishkins, Spuntino and Polpo can do no wrong it seems.
But Ape and Bird didn’t quite work for me.

The odd RKO Radio Pictures typeface of the pub’s name was the first thing I noticed. This messing with pub conventions continues throughout, so buckle up if you’re a pub traditionalist. It’s stormy waters ahead. 
(Put simply, this is the sort of place where Pete Brown would run for cover).


reproduced from their website apeandbird.com 


Maybe it’s author’s knowledge that’s the root of why I didn’t enjoy my night here.  

When Russell Norman and Richard Beatty popularised the Venetian chichetti bar in Polpo, or the Brooklyn diner in Spuntino, I was a true believer.  They brought an exotic slice of ‘elsewhere’ to Soho and made it accessible, good value and glamorous.

Their restaurants are as much a feast for the ego as the palate.  Queuing became cool. Because there's nothing more old-world elitist than calling ahead for a table now is there? Their restaurants are all about being where it’s at. Earning your seat at the bar after a wait, in which time you've drunk one too many, to eat cheek-by-jowl next to the media bratpack of Soho.

But Ape and Bird doesn’t carry that same kudos. It’s a three storey, high ceilinged establishment, its floor strewn with the laptop bags of people having downed tools (and luggage) for a Friday night drink and slightly fractious staff constantly picking their way through the obstacle course.

I ate beef shin pot pie, which was excessively rich and heavy. I didn't really enjoy it. It felt a bit unloved. A bit banged out.

The highlight of my visit was the downstairs gin joint. A dark and moody cocktail bar where you can imagine having one too many Negronis and emerge blinking into the London afternoon, knocking tourists out the way as you blast down Shaftesbury Avenue.

Russell Norman has described Ape and Bird as “folksy and friendly.” I found it large, loud and difficult to navigate. And the food was fairly disappointing. 

Perhaps more accurately he’s called it ‘a pub for people who don’t like pubs.’

My thoughts exactly.

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