Firebird landed on Poland Street in Soho. Although it’s not exactly Soho, but more that point where it merges into the lower half of Oxford Street. This is where Hare Krishna parades pass American breakfast cereal shops and where, if you stick around long enough, the world and their dog will drop by to buy a pair of Primark flip flops. Soho itself is particularly storied and henny these days, so any attempt to reach Firebird via Piccadilly Circus means you’ll encounter at least three groups of Grand National jockeys and a silent disco walking tour twirling with excitement towards The Final Countdown in Europe. Somewhere in the middle of all this chaos is Firebird, a sleek new restaurant opened by Madina Kazhimova and Anna Dolgushina, one of whom you’ll likely encounter as soon as you enter the quiet and rather dark interior.
From the outset, the place feels personal and family-friendly, which is a rarity in London restaurants at the moment, as only the bolshied, lightly sanitized grand openings seem to find the wings to soar. Firebird advertises itself as a natural/biodynamic restaurant and wine bar, but don’t let that put you off; they also offer drinks that aren’t berocca-wee-orange or evocative of athlete’s foot. They were doing a charred pineapple daiquiri and a smoky bellini highball the night we were there, though Charles opted for a mighty toasted sesame sour.
If these cocktails sound like they’ve been in contact with some kind of open flame, you’re about to guess the concept behind Firebird. Yes, fire. Almost everything on former chef Nikos Kontongiannatos’ menu is “touched by flames”, having been cooked over charcoal or wood. I thought that might be overkill, but, in Firebird’s case, it has legs. We ate at the sit down bar (not the best seats in the house, but I had booked quite late) so had a full view of the fire as the whole sea bass was grilled with aquapazza directed to other tables. Then chunks of halloumi, charred and crispy on the sides, sticky and sweet in the center, arrived glistening with honey and truffles, and I realized Firebird was actually pretty good. In fact, it’s probably better than 90% of the places I’ve wasted my time this year. The level of cuisine, coupled with genuinely intriguing and appetizing dishes, puts it right at the top of my list of important openings of 2022.
Take the cabbage stuffed with earth, poultry liver pâté and hazelnut, a sort of quirky and quirky Paris-Brest. It sounds obnoxious, but it works. Or the tiger prawns in a heavenly rich white wine and buttery sauce – well, more like a soup, because there were so many of them. The glazed pork belly, from the main course, appeared with obvious proof of the fire, with its crackling firmness and still-pink flesh, and came armed with a lukewarm potato salad and a drizzle of ketchup with plums. For vegans, there was “primo chou”, charred but soft and chewy, with a good punchy hazelnut romesco sauce. Never in all my years of judging MasterChef has anyone served me scallops on a bed of truffle butter mash, but at Firebird they want to set the rules on fire. The scallops were huge, plump, chewy and a bit flambé, as you would expect now.
By 8 p.m., Firebird was filled to the brim, and walk-on wannabes were turned away with charming diplomacy. Part of its magic is how they have an abundance of skilled staff, all with an eye on your empty glass, a missing fork, or a desire to see the dessert menu, a level of service that’s rarer than the hen’s dentures right now. Every time my towel was folded up, it felt like a hug. I was so excited about the short list of puddings that we ordered both, plus an old fashioned banana baked cocktail to celebrate. The offerings that evening included a tape cabbage filled with whipped cream, strawberries and pieces of honeycomb, strewn with pistachios and drizzled with a puddle of honey: pure calorific art. The other option was a small piece of moist, lightly alcoholic coffee cake in a sticky, sweet sauce and generously topped with praline cream and nuts. It was less pretty to look at, it’s true, but it was more impactful. As much thought had been put into the sweet course as the starters and mains, which is an almost outdated concept in the capital these days.
This place is one to have up your sleeve when you need a bit of class, friendliness and sustenance in a postcode that, since restrictions were lifted, has quickly returned to the center of booze-fueled parties. I’m a fan. Although my size could probably do without these gorgeous and imaginative desserts, I’m like a plump-bottomed moth to the flames of Firebird.
Bird of Fire 29 Poland Street, London W1, 07713 737813. Open Monday to Friday 5pm to 11pm, Saturday 12pm to 11pm. From around £50 pp plus drinks and service.
The next episode of the third series of the Grace’s Comfort Eating podcast is released on Tuesday, July 12. Listen to it here.