One of my best tapas experiences in London must have been two or more years ago when I went to Salt Yard, the Fitzrovia-based “charcuterie bar and restaurant”. Myself and a group of friends enjoyed a boozy evening of good wine and plentiful tapas. My prior experience of tapas hadn’t been great, often comprising a sparsely populated platter of average quality, overpriced meats along with some token olives. Salt Yard was in another league as far as I was concerned, with excellent food and helpful, positive staff that knew exactly what dishes they were selling. Its sister restaurant Dehesa on Ganton Street has a similarly strong reputation, though I have yet to try it for myself.
When I was alerted to the fact that a third restaurant in the group was opening in the Covent Garden area, I immediately made a reservation. Thankfully, like its sister restaurants, Opera Tavern leaves a strong, positive impression from the moment you enter, something that is as much to do with the attentive and knowledgeable service as it is with the excellent food and wine.
The restaurant itself is pleasantly set up, comprising a ground floor with tables and a bar section and an upstairs with further tables. We were seated upstairs where the candle-lit ambience doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re in a cave, whilst the exposed brickwork, deep terracotta paint, chandelier and unimposing artwork all help to create a relaxing and warm atmosphere.
Despite the similar focus on Spanish and Italian tapas I was told that only a two items on the menu (aside from some of the charcuterie meats), were shared with either of the other two restaurants in the group. Luckily one of those things is the courgette flower stuffed with goat’s cheese which I had remembered so fondly from Salt Yard. The smoky, molten goat’s cheese that oozes out of the crisp flower is wonderfully offset by the slightly bitter-sweet taste of the courgette itself.
The menu is vast but thankfully the staff know their stuff and will happily walk you through the options which, when ready, are delivered to the table bit by bit so that you’re never overwhelmed. Expect to pay an average of £7 per dish. There is also a strong wine list, primarily sourced from Italy, Sicily and Spain in keeping with the food. Again, the waiting staff can provide guidance here and we were very happy with our wine.
I don’t think you can go far wrong with what you order and you can easily stick to flavours and ingredients that you like, or be more experimental should you prefer. Truffle pecorino cheese served with honey is excellent, the two contrasting flavours working amazingly well. The gorgonzola and date croquettes manage a similarly successful blend of flavours, with the breadcrumbs being crisp but not greasy. The crispy squid was tender, cooked perfectly in a light tempura batter and served with a not-too-spicy chilli aioli.
Our waiter had strongly recommended that we try the Iberico pork and fois gras burger which is good but I have certainly had better. It did not help that the fried onion served with it was so overpowering. By contrast, I strongly recommend the grilled Iberico presa which I am told is pork shoulder. The meat was char-grilled so tender but still a little pink in the middle, with the caper, shallot and lemon gravy providing warm yet slightly vinegary flavours that complement the meat.
Should you fancy dessert, the panacotta with clementine sorbet and blood orange granita is spectacular. The way that the icy fruit flavours melt on your tongue first, leaving you with the fresh and creamy taste of the panacotta shows a level of consideration that many so-called celebrity chefs would be envious of. The date and walnut tart is good but nowhere near as impressive, whilst the dessert wine (one recommended by each dish on the menu) might be too tempting for you, as it was for us.
The cost of the meal will build up if you get carried away and if you are looking for a low-budget tapas restaurant, this isn’t it. However, if food quality and service are priorities for you then I can thoroughly recommend Opera Tavern. I will certainly be heading back soon, though I might check out Dehesa first for good measure.