Eating out well and for a decent price in central London is far from easy. Yes, there are the obvious and reliable burger joints such as Honest Burgers which sadly like most of the restaurants so great a few years back in this area, has since become part of an ever growing chain ( Wahaca's Mexican offering another example) and with that has lost some of the quality and flair that first drew me to it. I guess it's hard to keep to your roots when the demand is massive and opening more branches an opportunity too tempting to turn down.
Even the Ape & Bird is part of a so to speak restaurant empire. If you have followed my reviews you have surely seen the name Russell Norman mentioned in one of them, the man that brought over the idea of sliders from the USA in his speakeasy style bar Spuntino (a place where I wasted a considerable amount of my student loan and consumed too many truffled egg toasts), offered us Jewish comfort food at Mishkin’s and most notably introduced the London restaurant scene to Venetian tapas through his hugely successful Polpo restaurants. All of these have been relatively expensive in their price point, particularly Polpo that with its small dish, sharing type of menu sees the bill adding up rather quickly. Of course even the greatest of restaurateurs make mistakes and in his case one of those was the original idea behind the Ape & Bird. Wanting to reinvigorate pub cuisine, Norman’s light and sophisticated touch didn't translate well in the beautiful restored pub that houses the Ape & Bird yet rather than shutting up shop Norman rebranded and filled exactly the gap of high quality, affordable food in the middle of tourist hell I was referring to earlier. So what do they serve?
Simple, delicious Italian fare, think Polpo stripped back and served in generous portions, resulting in incredible comfort food and a meal that will leave two of you stuffed and with a bottle of great house wine shared for £25 each. Pizzas are thin, crispy and beautifully topped, my egg, spinach and garlic variation one of the best I have had outside Italy. Starters are a must here too - our figs, ricotta and honey concoction gone within minutes and the zucchini fries.... what can I say I once sampled these at Polpetto a few years back and without an ounce of shame I will happily admit that we ordered two portions on this occasion - if you have one thing there make it the zucchini fries. With the informal atmosphere of a pub and food he knows like no other, the Ape & Bird may not have been perfect from the outset but in its new guise is one of my new favourite dinner spots and a much needed addition to the eating out offering in central London!