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The Polpo brand is known for a very distinctive cuisine, the Venetian cicchetti, or sharing of small plates. Now Russell Norman, the TV chef who made it popular, has brought it to the Ape and Bird in Seven Dials, right in the very hub of the tourist district – which may explain why the place is usually packed out.  In Italian it would be called a bàcaro or Venetian wine bar, while in English it sets out to be “a pub for people who don’t like pubs” – that is, it focuses on the gastro in gastro pub, and on wine and cocktails rather than beer.

The space extends over three floors, with the Dive Bar, a rustic, candle-lit hideaway renowned for its Spritzes, in the basement, while the main bar on the ground floor is light and airy with high ceilings, giant iron chandeliers and lots of glass. In the window area of the main bar there is a small dining area, surrounded by pots of fresh herbs, but the main dining area is upstairs. There’s a vast mural featuring local luminaries such as Jeffrey Barnard, Marc Bolan and Francis Bacon.

True to its character as a bàcaro, the restaurant has a big wood-fired pizza oven, and true to its character as a gastro pub, it features plenty of inventive dishes such as crabs on toast with devilled kidneys, or deep pink pigeon breast with crunchy bacon. Deceptively simple cuisine that takes the pub food concept to a whole new level.

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