London Food & Culture

So you’ve never been to…Opera Tavern, Covent Garden

The high quality West End staple has had a refurb, with a new menu and chef

Age: A healthy eight. Not bad in London’s – not to mention the West End’s – extremely competitive restaurant scene.

Where exactly is it? Right there in the heart of Covent Garden. Occupying a former pub, it opened back when the area was not exactly the number one go-to for people in search of good food. Fast forward nearly a decade – and my, how it’s all changed.

OK. So what goes on there? Relaxed all-day scoffing and sipping. As sister to tapas restaurants Salt Yard, Ember Yard and Dehesa, it’s Spanish-Italian small plates, mostly. The space has just been revamped with refreshed interior, new menu and new head chef Lukasz Kiebasinski, formerly of Salt Yard and Michael Nadra, the idea being a ‘back-to-basics’ approach.

The interior? Slightly more laidback than we remembered it before the refurb, with less counter dining and more of a bar feel on the 24-cover ground floor, tables for two tucked into cosy corners. There are contemporary graphic prints by the likes of Ben Eine, antique mirrors and exposed brickwork, plus a no-doubt popular communal table. Upstairs is the more formal 45-cover restaurant, which, with our limited time, we didn’t get a chance to check out.


What should I eat? You could go for the all-time classics: an Iberico pork burger, ruddy when sliced, with aged manchego, crispy red onions and aioli, something of a two-mouthful flavourbomb; or the n’duja scotch egg which is, we agreed, probably the finest of its genre in London: meltingly soft meat, bright orange yolk and crisp exterior, sitting on an umami-packed mayo.

A selection of plates: the scotch egg, tomato salad and more. Photo: PR

Other highlights? Zingy cured trout with beetroot and grapefruit, and a pretty plate of slow-cooked Galician octopus daubed with bright yellow blobs of saffron aioli, roasted (and sweetly rich) datterini tomatoes and a touch of fire courtesy of jalapeños. Tomatoes are clearly a thing at this time of year: a colourful plate of meaty heritage Liguria bull hearts was also a delight, splashed with posh olive oil.

But the absolute top dish? Chargrilled strips of rosy flat iron steak, as butter-soft as I’ve ever tasted – more like fillet, in fact – strewn with extremely sweet red onion (the Calabrian variety, Tropea) and savoury whorls of bone marrow sauce.

And what do I drink? Obviously the cocktail list is on-point, from classics like a fine negroni to spritz serves and quirkier libations such as Salted Amalfi (manzanilla sherry, limoncello, clarified lemon, tonic bitters). Our carafe of easygoing Monastrell matched the meat and fish dishes, priced at £18.

What’s the service like? Friendly, swift and more than able to take in our extremely small time window before the theatre.

Do say: ‘This is still a Covent Garden corker.’

Don’t say: ‘Where’s Barrafina?’

Opera Tavern, open daily, 23 Catherine Street WC2B 5JS, more info here

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