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Opera Tavern

23 Catherine Street, Covent Garden, London, England, WC2B 5JS, United Kingdom

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Despite its name, The Opera Tavern is in fact directly opposite the Theatre Royal, but is a short stumble from the Royal Opera House. It is the latest (opened in January 2011) restaurant from the team that brought you Salt Yard and Dehesa. The restaurant is spread over two floors, with a bar and tables downstairs and a further seating area upstairs  I have now had several meals here, and the cooking standard is consistently good.  On a recent meal i was particularly impressed with an excellent fig tart for dessert.

What follows are notes from a meal in March 2011.

The atmosphere was lively, and the combination of wooden floor, music and fairly raucous diners (we were eating late on a Saturday night) meant that the noise levels were quite high. The format is tapas, with a wide range of Spanish nibbles available. Bread was sliced sourdough lightly char-grilled and served with aioli or olive oil (£2.55). I am not keen on bread being charged for in restaurants, though prices here are generally modest and the bread itself was decent enough (13/20).

The mainly Spanish and Italian wine list had plenty of selections under £40 (some as low as £17), with wines such as Poderi Colla Riesling 2009 at £39 for a wine you can find in the shops for around £12, Honora Vera 2009 at £18 for a £5 wine, the excellent Vino Tondonia 2001 at a somewhat steep £59 for a wine that can be found for £15, and Roda 1 2004 at £76.60 for a wine that retails at around £33. There are a few more ambitious wines at relatively kind mark-up levels, such as the divine Vega Sicilia Unico 1998 at £295 for a wine that costs £187 in the shops, or the Borgogno Riserva Barolo 1982 at £140 compared to a retail price of around £79.

Padron peppers (£4.25) had good taste and were nicely grilled (13/20), while slices of Lomo Iberica de Bellotta from Extramadura (£4), served on a wooden board, was always going to go down well (the hams here are supplied from Brindisa). The dish of the night for me was the Iberico mini burger (£5.50), made with lovely Iberico pork and flavoured with a little foie gras, served in a little brioche bun; this was served with a few mild green chillies on the side (15/20).

Scallops (£3.25 each) were carefully cooked and served with a smooth butternut squash puree, with a little bite provided by a shallot and truffle dressing and texture by some migas (fried breadcrumbs), giving a well-balanced dish (14/20). Patatas fritas (£3.75) were chips with a Bravas sauce with garlic. The chips were good, being triple-cooked, though they were still not as crisp as they might have been, while the Bravas sauce seemed a little subdued to me (13/20).

Young artichokes (£6.50) were fried, dressed with a smoked garlic and shallot vinaigrette and served with a poached free range egg. This dish worked well, the artichokes having good taste, the egg providing some richness, the vinaigrette cutting through the richness (14/20). Iberico Pressa (£6) was shoulder of pork, cooked slowly and resulting in tender meat in a rich jus, balanced by with capers, lemon and shallot – this was a lovely, rich dish (15/20).

Some Manchego cheese at the end (£7.40) gave a taste of three different ages of Manchego; this was pleasant enough.  Coffee was quite good (14/20). The bill for dinner came to £59 each with one of the better bottles of wine.  Service from our French waitress was genuinely good; she was efficient and friendly but also knew a lot about the cooking processes and the sources of ingredients. This was avery enjoyable evening.

I was able to pay this a second visit a few days later for lunch and try some additional dishes. You may not be able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but you should be able to make better pig’s ear than the ones here, which were simply too hard in texture (12/20).Other than that the standard was generally around the 14/20 level once again, with comforting croquettes, pleasant gnocchi gratin and refreshing mackerel escabeche.  A chocolate fondant was also nicely made. Once again, the service was very good indeed.

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