Thursday, 3 February 2011

Opera Tavern

Salt Yard and Dehesa are two London Spanish-Italian tapas joints I often recommend to food lovers visiting London, especially if they happen to be on a date. The atmosphere is buzzy yet cosy, and the food never fails to please (and you can book, so no queues). High hopes for Opera Tavern then, run by the same husband-and-wife team behind Salt Yard and Dehesa, and just unveiled in the heart of Covent Garden, in a handsome two-storey building opposite The Theatre Royal.

Seated upstairs, in a quiet, smart dining room, we perused the menu. Up front is a list of tempting Spanish and Italian bar snacks, all hovering around £4. Then it gets fancier: expensive charcuterie and cheeses, and a selection of equally pricey small-plate fish, meat and vegetable dishes. Our lovely waitress suggested three dishes each would sate our appetites. I agree with Dos Hermanos about eating tapas in a smart restaurant setting - it doesn't feel right. Tapas is traditionally served at the bar, to accompany drinks, often in rowdy surroundings. Sitting at a dining table with starched napkin on lap to graze off starter-sized offerings takes a bit of getting used to. But it's all the rage right now (Polpo, Polpetto, Bocca di Lupo, Terroirs, Morito do it, and do it well).

Crispy Iberico Pigs Ears £3. Delightfully chewy and salty. Pork scratchings with bite.

Patata Fritas with Alioli and Bravas sauce £3.75. Bland, perhaps, but they were polished off quickly. They might be more pleasing if they were cut thicker and had more substance.

Grilled scallop with butternut squash puree, shallot and truffle dressing, and migas £4.25. Refined, and exceptional. The sweet soft scallop melted in the mouth as the salty crunch of crumbly migas added bite, and the fresh dressing gently amplified the scallop. A memorable mouthful, and worth every penny.

Moorish marinated Iberico pork £2.95. One of a selection of skewers available from the charcoal grill. A little disappointing, as the meat was raw in the middle. Bites of London review had the same experience, so it seems I wasn't just unlucky. Fine if you're munching through a stick of beef, but not pork.

Courgette flowers stuffed with goats' cheese and drizzled with honey £7.55. A popular dish at Opera Tavern's two sister restaurants. This was bang on: oozing, salty cheese and sweet sticky honey bringing the humble courgette to life.

Salt marsh lamb leg with pumpkin gnocchi, salted anchovies, brown butter, and mint £6.50. Another hit. Perfectly cooked lamb, and light-as-a-feather gnocchi, with enough butter to leave an indelible impression on my arteries.

Braised short rib of beef with polenta, cavolo nero and sage £7.25. This reminded me of Jun Tanaka's great braised featherblade of beef at the London Restaurant Festival in Spitalfields last year. Soft, rich, and intensely beefy (for want of a better adjective).

And to finish, a tart of chestnuts and something else. I don't remember. It was perfectly decent, but not memorable. Keep your budget for the savoury big hitters.

Our lunch bill, with 4 glasses of Prosecco, came to £80. Too pricey, by far. A fellow food blogger, Lizzie aka Hollow Legs, was at the soft launch, and warned me beforehand on Twitter of the exorbitant prices (click here to see her review), which will put me off returning for now, regardless of the largely impressive meal.

Opera Tavern on Urbanspoon


  1. You're being harsh to judge this as expensive.

  2. Maybe so, but I think £80 for lunch is dear, even in London. Lunch at Les Deux Salons, Terroirs, and numerous other central London restaurants with equally talented kitchens give me change from £50.

  3. Iberico Pork is ALWAYS served rare. Didn't it taste great that way?

  4. Also £80 is not very expensive.

  5. Hi Stevie
    Thanks for your comments, It was too rare for me. I've had rare Iberico pork in Barcelona, and it did indeed taste great.

    I seem to have caused upset by saying it was expensive. I stand by my comment, given it was lunch - great lunches can be had elsewhere in London for less, even with fizz. I'd pay £80 for dinner though, and perhaps should have added that as a caveat.

  6. Hi Laura,

    Your first post just appeared on Urbanspoon! Check it out:

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    Also, I noticed that you placed the spoonback (the Urbanspoon image link) for Opera Tavern in the navigation column on the left-hand side of your blog. In order to ensure that the spoonback system works correctly, it is necessary that the spoonbacks be placed in the body of your actual posts. So if you could please move the spoonback from the navigation column to the actual post, that would be great.

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  7. iberico pork is supposed to be served rare it tastes at it's best with such high quality meat it is quite safe also me and my wife went there this week for dinner it was lovely the staff were charming and the bill was 70 pounds wine included we will be returning

  8. Hi Anonymous
    Yes, I am aware it's supposed to be served rare, but it was too rare for me, and was rather tasteless. I've had better elsewhere. However I am a big fan of Salt Yard and Dehesa, so will be returning to their other establishments, and perhaps Opera Tavern, if I'm feeling particularly flush. Thanks for your comment.