The decision to go to dinner had turned into a dilemma. I had a long list of places I wanted to check out in the area and after some thought, I had narrowed it down to two: Opera Tavern and 32 Great Queen Street. After walking in circles through Covent Garden, by sheer randomness we finally ended up at the doorstep of Opera Tavern. And thus began our gastronomic voyage for the evening….
The first order of business was to ask if there were tables available, as it looked quite busy. A polite hostess in her well-mannered approach (an unusual & rare sight at busy London restaurants) informed us that we could have one until 8:30, and seeing that it was only 6:30 at the time – we gladly took up her offer and were seated at our table upstairs.
Upstairs, the decor and color combinations suited the restaurant’s personality but one look at the size of the tables and I got scared. I am not a fan of small tables, especially ones that are in close proximity to the adjacent tables, but I knew I had no choice. We were greeted by our waitress for the evening, Ella, who was all smiles and asked to take our coats. When Ella returned with our menus, I began to realise that this kid would be a star. Let me explain…
I never know what I want to drink, and I love making a conversation out of my indecisiveness. The only thing I knew was that I wanted beer, so I commissioned Ella as my guide for the evening, and we would start at the drinks. The choices weren’t many and as I do not care for blonde beers, my choices were limited. Ella suggested the draft beer and I made a joke about tasting it…..but the joke turned into reality when she left and came back with a sample for me to try. Impressed, I tasted the beer I would never normally order and something weird happened. Instant flashbacks from my childhood came flooding down: the sound of dice, the crunching of nuts and the gold glistening of my granddad’s cold beer which he let me sip whenever I did something good. In honour of this trip down memory lane, I had to order a half pint. Meanwhile, Ella helped my friend with a couple of great wine options. And now it was time for the food.
After much deliberation, we called Ella back to help us narrow down our choices. She was brilliant – you could tell she had tasted every single dish. The order was chiselled down to this:
Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Goats’ Cheese and Drizzled with Honey – A three-part rollercoaster ride of flavors. Frying is my least favorite way of cooking, and usually I avoid it like the plague. This however, I could eat with pleasure. First stop the baby courgette, which was cooked perfect, reminding you that beneath the crispy batter there is a crunchy vegetable. Then came the flower, a delicate texture on the outside, and a soft sharp taste on the inside, balanced with the sweetness of the honey. The final bit to this tasty treat was the crusty top where the flower is twisted to keep the filling in (if you’re lucky to get it), which reminded me of Loukoumades, a very traditional sweet I used to eat as a kid. A splash of lemon was the only component missing from this dish.
Fried young artichokes with poached egg and smoked garlic and shallot vinaigrette – I ♥ Artichokes…Gooey poached egg + artichoke + vinaigrette = party in my mouth. This officially inspired breakfast/brunch for this weekend.
Grilled Ibérico Presa with Capers, Shallots and Lemon – OMG. Gone are the days of fearing Trichinosis… I do believe we live in a time where it is finally acceptable to eat pork medium rare. I’m sure my grandma would disagree, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! I could have easily had an entire plate of this for myself…. Again…PARTY in my mouth.
Mini Iberico Pork And Foie Gras Burger – It fully lived up to my slider expectations and I could have eaten 5 on my own. Pink on the inside, juicy and full of flavor. It was a bit tricky to share, but when there’s a will there’s a way…
Gratin Of Gnocchi, Taleggio, Trompettes and Migas – As Ella warned, it was heavy…but good none-the-less. I don’t think I would eat more than what I ate, but only because my body would hate me for it afterwards.
Crispy Squid And Sea Purslane With Chilli Aioli – The squid was ok, and the aioli was very nice, but I think the batter was too heavy for the delicate nature of the squid. A tempura batter, or even just dusted with flour and fried (Greek style) would make it a sure winner.
Steamed Sea Bream with an Anchovy, Caper and Olive Oil Dressing – I wouldn’t say it was the best fish I’ve had, but it was a decent, tasty little plate with various flavours bouncing back and forth.
Mixed Leaf Salad – vibrant and a necessary side-dish
Cheese Gnocchi, Mixed Vegetables with Pine Nuts and Pesto Dressing – chock-full of flavor! The perfect and light accompaniment to all the heavier stuff.
Bitter Chocolate Fondant with Salted Pistachio Caramel and Milk Ice Cream – Although at this point I had had enough, I did try the fondant. It was all right, not the best I’ve had thought. I would change the Ice cream texture from a sorbet to more of a Gelato-type smoothness.
I am fully aware that this was too much food for two people, but it was impossible to stop. If our stomachs were up for the challenge we would have eaten everything on the menu.
Conclusion: Service 10/10 (Ella you were a star), Food 8/10 (with some tweaking here and there it could go to 10), Atmosphere 7/10 (music, colours, décor all worked but it got a bit loud), Experience 9/10 (I would go back, and I would recommend it to friends), Professionalism/Training 10/10 (good job owners/manager)!
Opera Tavern – 23 Catherine St, Covent Garden , London WC2B 5JS (I didn’t add any photos of the food, I think it’s better to go explore for yourself!)