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Friday 20 December 2013

The Ape & Bird - London Brewers' Market - Fourpure - Brewdog Shepherd's Bush

Friday 29th November - I vaguely remember starting a blog about quirky bars back in February.  10 months later, and I seem to have become a "foodie" of sorts.  My trip to The Ape & Bird was my 5th meal out in 6 days after Kitchenette, Boopshi's, Source and a forgettable Italian restaurant.  Speaking of Italian food, The Ape & Bird is run by Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, the masterminds behind the successful Venetian Polpo chain (as well as Mishkin's and Spuntino). They are also reopening their popular plosive Polpetto joint in Berwick Street early next year after a successful pop-up run above the French House.

The Ape & Bird has boldly opened up in the heart of touristy London, round the corner from a giant Pizza Hut and opposite the bright lights of the Palace Theatre.  Ostensibly it is a pub, but actually there are two dining rooms, a pub and a cocktail bar inside spread over 3 floors (and 5000 square feet!).

Jane, Lee and I started off in the attractive ground floor pub area where there was a solid but unadventurous range of beers including Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Camden Pale Ale.  A recent Twitter post showed that they have had some interesting guest ales in from the likes of Hackney Brewery since our visit.

Space was at a premium so before too long we took our drinks into the adjacent, beautifully lit dining room.  After a bit of people watching (Russell Norman was patrolling), we got down to the tricky business of choosing our food from a very tempting preview menu.

Balham tube inspired Chandeliers

For starters we went for Blood Pudding Hash (with fried sprouts & soft poached egg), Crab on Toast (with sea vegetables) and a Pig Trotter Scotch Egg (with celeriac fries).  We had serious food envy of next door's Penny Buns (with squash, salsify & roasted garlic).  Starters range from £6-9, and you will want to order all of them.

We splashed out (wait for it) on mains going for a trio of fish (there's the pun) - Roast Cod, Charred Beets, Kale & Walnut Pesto for £16, Winter Chowder, Scottish Mussels & Black Cabbage for £14 and Brown Trout, Shrimp & Tarragon Butter, Watercress for £18.  There are some very affordable options considering the location, including a £9 Cheeseburger, £11 Chicken, Leek & Mushroom Pie, and a £12 Cumberland, Sausage & Mash, that are all bound to be very good examples of the classic pub food genre.  Also worth a mention was our small but perfectly formed side of Oak Leaf & Pumpkin Seeds.

Pig Trotter Scotch Egg
A tempting dessert menu led us to share Blackberry & Apple Crumble, Sticky Date Pudding with Ice Cream, and Bannoffeebocker Glory.  The Sticky Date Pudding was the clear winner - rich, moreish, comforting, everything we hoped for.  Goat Curd Doughnuts & Rhubarb were sadly not available on our night - I thought I spied Russell taking a plate over to some VIPs but these turned out to be devilled kidneys - shows how much I know!

The friendly Mr.Norman took us upstairs after our meal for a sneak peek at the first floor bar and dining room, which wasn't quite finished during the soft opening.  Here we got a closer look at the Ape & Bird - the charming bar sign based on a sketch Russell made of Kifu the Gorilla at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent.  The previous pub on this site was called Marquis of Granby, which they decided was far too commonly used to keep.  Ape & Bird was used as a temporary working title until the staff convinced Russell and Richard to stick with it.

One wall of the upstairs dining room is taken up by a mad piece of art which, according to the artist, "should suck you into the vortex of Soho on a Thursday night".

Beware - it might suck you into the vortex of Soho
View of ground floor from the stairs
For a sense of completion, we made our way through the heaving pub to reach the low-lit basement dive bar.  It is a shame that punters walk through the bar to reach the toilets, as it takes a bit of the atmosphere away, but it is a fun place to drink nevertheless.  A short boozy list of 4 classics, 4 originals, 4 juleps and 4 martinis are competitively priced at £8 - Old Fashioned, Jerry Thomas Manhattan and Seventh Earl all impressed.

I normally go to several places in one evening for The List, but there's no need to when the pub, restaurant and bar are all in the same place.  Each section has its own character so you really do get the full experience of a varied night out.  The Ape & Bird is a fantastic addition to London's drinking & dining scene - another success for the dynamic duo of Norman & Beatty.

Saturday 30th November - WARNING: The rest of this post concerns beer.  After a relatively quiet Friday night, the three of us met up again the next day to sample some beers at the inaugural London Brewers' Market at Old Spitalfields Market.  Over 20 breweries and brewpubs turned up to dish out draught beers and sell bottles to hundreds of thirsty shoppers.  It was a great chance to meet a lot of the brewers themselves - much more interesting and sociable than your average beer festival.

The Independent Label Market was running at the same time, which fitted nicely with our first stop. Signature Brew hate drinking bad beer at gigs. To combat this, they collaborate with various artists (e.g. Frank Turner, Professor Green) to brew exciting beers to sell either inside or near music venues. I had a superb bottle of Mammoth - a double-IPA brewed with London Fields Brewery and Dry the River.

We moved on to Late Knights and Hop Stuff.  Late Knights Brewery was created by Northerner Steve Keegan - it was originally something he did in his spare time (lots of Late Nights...) whilst working at Fullers.  Late Knights now own their own Beer Rebellion bar in Gipsy Hill, and plan to open other branches with Brockley & Peckham rumoured to be the next locations.

Hop Stuff Brewery are very new, but have an impressive range available already.  They are based in Woolwich, and often open their doors for fresh beer and off sales.  The bottles would make a very attractive Christmas gift!

We ploughed on (it's a tough life) taking in lots of tasty beers from old favourites - Fullers, Hackney Brewery, Crate, By the Horns, Beavertown, Brixton, East London, Windsor & Eton, London Fields, Sambrooks, Redchurch, Meantime and Camden Town.  Brewpubs were well represented by London Brewing Co (Bull Highgate) and Tap East (based in Stratford - from the team behind Utobeer and The Rake in London Bridge).

Two of my favourites were new kids on the Bermondsey block Fourpure (read more below) and Hackney based Five Points who do a mean Pale Ale.

We finished off with the very drinkable Hackney Best Bitter as they started selling it at a £1 a pint - cheapest round I have ever bought!  It was a brilliant event, though a little too crowded.  If it was more regular or held over a few days, we would have been able to spend more time chatting to the passionate brewers about their beers which wasn't really possible until the very end.  Apparently it is going to be an annual event, but hopefully we won't have to wait that long.  In the meantime, go and hang out in Bermondsey on a Saturday, most of them are there anyway!

Saturday 7th November - Guest Post - We only lasted a week before visiting the guys at Fourpure (Bermondsey brewery No.4) after enjoying their beers at London Brewers' Market (which sadly coincided with their launch).

Although I claim to be a Bermondsey local, I never knew Bermondsey covered quite such a large area. If you think Kernel to Partizan is a long way to walk for a second pint, Kernel to Fourpure will test your resolve. Finding Fourpure is the next test - it lies on an unexpected trading estate behind Screwfix and what looks like a disused lorry depot. 

However, find it and you will be rewarded. Of all the Bermondsey breweries it has the largest space and some great brewing equipment (a second hand bargain apparently). This will be a great location for the summer. They've got garden benches, sacks of hops and a ping-pong table to keep the young American vibe strong and five beers on tap as well as bottles to take away. We tried a flight of five beers for £7.50 and explored the world map on the wall which shows the locations from where the beers are inspired. All beers were pleasing, they had two IPAs, a Pale Ale, an Amber and a Stout. The Session IPA won my vote but I brought one of each home to confirm the verdict at a later date.

N.B. Bermondsey brewery No.5, Anspach & Hobday will open soon on Druid Street - read about Matt's trip to their brewery commissioning here.  Have you completed the Bermondsey Beer Mile yet?

Fourpure was visited by @JaneSlocombe

Whilst Jane was off at Fourpure, I was over in Notting Hill stage managing a concert.  Never one to waste an opportunity, as soon as it was finished, I jumped on the Central Line to meet a few friends at Brewdog's latest beer bar in Shepherd's Bush.

Whilst I'm sad that they still haven't set up shop in SW London (Camden & Shoreditch are the other two branches so far, surely Brixton / Clapham / Battersea will get a look in), I can't argue with the clever location opposite Shepherd's Bush Empire.  With 40 (!) beers on tap (Euston Tap can only muster 28), this is a craft beer lover's dream. though don't come if you are only in the market for real ales.  There are also sumptuous slow-cooked meats from Texas Joe's to soak up the booze.

I was fully expecting to have to fight my way to the bar on a Saturday night (as is often the case in the Shoreditch and Edinburgh branches), but it was pleasantly chilled.  I much prefer the atmosphere in here than in Brewdog Shoreditch where it is too loud to speak to anyone (although the downstairs Underdog speakeasy there is comfortably one of London's best bars). They have done a great job with the décor, particularly on the lighting front, and the stylish pinball machines seemed to be a hit.

I joined friends Tom, Phil and Lauren who were already plotting their return for a Reel Big Fish / Less than Jake gig over the road next year. West London locals Louise & Coral also popped in for a quick pint.

We started with some Brewdog beers - the consistently brilliant mango-tastic Punk IPA, easy drinking Dead Pony Club and Fake Lager, and a festive Santa Paws - before moving on to a fantastic Corne du Diable (Horn of the Devil) from Canadian microbrewery Dieu Du Ciel and a round of delicious Mikeller Hoppy Lovin' Christmas brews, which slipped down very quickly considering their 7.8% ABV.  

If you have a spare £500 lying around, see if they've saved any bottles of limited edition (and supposedly sold out) The End of History, their bonkers 55% bottled beer that comes stuffed inside a stoat / weasel.

"This 55% beer should be drank in small servings whilst exuding an endearing pseudo vigilance and reverence for Mr Stoat. This is to be enjoyed with a weather eye on the horizon for inflatable alcohol industry Nazis, judgemental washed up neo-prohibitionists or any grandiloquent, ostentatious foxes."


Brewdog - End of History - 55%

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