Opera Tavern is the new venture from the Salt Yard Group, (restaurants Dehesa and Salt Yard) that opened last week in Covent Garden. The restaurant and bar occupies a two-storey space on Catherine Street, with a lively bar and few tables downstairs and a more peaceful dining room on the 1st floor.
Upon arrival, we were whisked upstairs to the first floor dining room and immediately proceeded to order some bread, which arrived lightly grilled alongside a big dollop of aioli and tided us over until we could decide what to order. We settled upon 9 dishes to share between the two of us and cracked on with a bottle of Ca‘di Ponti 2010 Sicilian Catarratto, (a steal at 15.35 for the bottle or 3.85 a glass) which was light, fruity and easy to drink – perfect for our 2.5 hour long lunch. The first dish out was a fairly substantial slice of Iberico Pig’s Head Terrine, which we both liked with the tender shredded meat and the right amount of salt, pepper and fresh parsley as seasoning.
The Mini Iberico and Foie Gras burger arrived medium rare, topped with delicately thin onion rings and was predictably rich and juicy. The foie gras added additional richness to the already succulent Iberico meat but was difficult to distinguish as an individual element in the burger.
Courgette flowers were stuffed with a ripe goat cheese, served lightly fried and drizzled with honey. Tasty, not too oily and and a pretty satisfactory execution of the classic Roman dish.
Jamón de Teruel arrived thinly sliced and was delightful to snack on in between our more substantial plates. Aged for 18 months, the meat was lighter and less rich than the Iberico, but still had a hint of nuttiness.
The Gnocchi Gratin with Trompettes and Tallegio was one of our favorite dishes – mainly for the superb gnocchi. As such, I’d order one of the other gnocchi dishes next time in the hopes of getting more than the measly four in the gratin!
Grilled Salt Cod with Arroz Negro was pleasant and the firm texture of the fish with its crispy Romesco crust worked well with the softness and slight brininess of the rice. As the arroz negro had quite a strong flavor, the red pepper emulsion surrounding the rice fell a bit flat and we were lost as to the reason for its presence on the plate.
Patatas fritas were poorly seasoned and disappointing, further let down by what could have potentially saved the dish – a bland bravas sauce with no kick to it.
Flavor-wise, our favorite dish of the evening were the skewers of Salt Marsh Lamb Leg and Kidney with Smoked Paprika – one of the three Pinchos Morunos from the grill. The lamb and kidneys were tender, with a wonderful smoky char to them and despite my general aversion to kidneys, I found the texture of these to be quite pleasant. While the flavour of the lamb was wonderful, we were slightly put off to find that our meat was cooked rare – and very rare, at that. The neighboring table was also unhappy with the rareness of their skewers and sent them back to the kitchen. Perhaps the temperature of the grill needs to be adjusted? A few minutes later, we received a skewer on the house (in other words, the order had been put in 2x) and the lamb was much less remarkable this second time round. It would appear that the dish had been sitting out for some time, evidenced by the small pool that had gathered around the board.
Echoing our sentiments on the lamb skewer, our Iberico Pressa was served slightly too rare for our liking. It was tasty in its lemon and caper sauce, properly sliced to preserve its tenderness but I still feel slightly uncomfortable about eating pork that’s more than pink.
We finished the meal with a pleasant Panacotta with Clementine Sorbet and a pair of very, very strong filter coffees.
We enjoyed our meal at Opera Tavern and with 50% off, the bill came to 57 pounds for 2 at lunch. T and I don’t think we’d return for a full-fledged dinner and both agreed that paying full-price for the small portions on offer is just not worth it. But its convenient Covent Garden location makes it the perfect place to enjoy a few small plates and wine pre- or post-theatre downstairs in the livelier and less formal bar. There were more hits than misses, and the hits were certainly delightful, so next time we think we’ll stick to the hams and dishes from the grill.