Polpo at Ape & Bird

I'm a big fan of Russell Norman's restaurants. I ended up at Spuntino on my first date with Alex, opened my 21st birthday presents over lunch at Polpo, and celebrated my finals results at Polpetto. It's unsurprising, then, that I associate Russell Norman's various outposts with feeling special and loved! The Polpo restaurants particularly appeal to me - I love the humble atmosphere of the bàcaro, and the simplicity of their small Venetian plates can't be beaten. So when Alex and I were casting around for somewhere to eat before heading to the Donmar Warehouse one evening, the nearby Polpo at Ape & Bird on Cambridge Circus was a no-brainer.

The interior of the restaurant is characterised by casa della nonna touches, such as the lampshades seemingly crafted from linen napkins, but also embraces its heritage as a former football gastropub by making the most of the high wood-panelled ceilings and beautiful copper bar, where we were seated on this occasion.

No strangers to pre-theatre dining, we're well aware that ordering small is the way to go to avoid groaning (and possibly falling asleep) during the first act! We shared bruschette loaded with sweet Jerusalem artichoke slices and truffle oil, pork and fennel meatballs smothered in tomato sauce on a bed of spaghettini, and finally, scarily piquant mussels. The latter, sprinkled liberally with chilli flakes, were just a bit too spicy for me, though my dining companion, an utter chilli fiend, loved them. Luckily I had a Stark & Dormy (uh huh) to wash the burning sensation from my mouth!

Although we only ordered a few dishes on this occasion, I have to say Ape & Bird's offerings, while delicious, didn't quite have the wow factor of the dishes I've had at some of the other Russell Norman restaurants, like the fall-apart strozzapreti or the wobbly maple tart at Polpetto (swoon). The meal was good value for money, though, and I left feeling pleasantly full, segueing seamlessly from devilishly spicy mussels to City of Angels, one of my all-time favourite musicals. Angels closed a few weeks ago, but it was fabulous and very cleverly done, and definitely deserves a West End transfer! Meanwhile, I can't wait for my next small plates fix. I know there's a branch of Polpo near me in Notting Hill, and after perusing the Jewish comfort food staples on the Mishkin's menu (salt beef mac n' cheese, anyone?) I'm sold.

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