23 Catherine Street
Heston Blumenthal’s first foray outside of Bray has been fairly well publicised to say the least and has caused much hysteria amongst critics and food bloggers alike. I am still mercifully holding out on the daily waiting list for Dinner, ready for that much anticipated phone call that means I need to drop everything, and everyone, at a seconds notice to dine at this much coveted restaurant. That area of Knightsbridge that was somewhat sparse of good restaurants has now turned in to a gastronomic Bermuda triangle. You could get lost for days in Koffmann’s, Marcus Waering at The Berkeley, Bar Boulud and now of course Heston’s London gaff.
One area that has never been short of a place or two to eat is Covent Garden and Opera Tavern is its latest addition. The former public house has been thoughtfully refurbished by the team behind the Salt Yard Group who have Dehesa on Kingly Street and Salt Yard on Goodge Street.
The ground floor is focused around the bar which allows people to have drink and eat at, a trend that seems to be ever increasing. I remember when a seat at the bar would be deemed as either the worst seat in the house or just a place to drink. I personally love sitting at bars to eat and being close to the action of whatever is going on behind the other side of the bar. There are a few tables on the ground floor but the main dining room is upstairs.
This was my third outing to Opera Tavern and rather fittingly it was after having been to the Royal Opera House. The first two visits were to take advantage of the soft opening. I was impressed by both visits although the second time (we had not booked) involved a wait longer than a performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, arriving at 7.30pm and being seated at 10.15pm.
The menu starts off with bar snacks that include a rather tasty Italian style scotch egg with a fantastically runny egg yolk but it isn’t a match on the ones at The Harwood Arms. Other snacks include a sexier Spanish take on pork scratchings, crispy Iberico pig’s ears and a generous portion of Padron peppers that were succulent and had a nice kick to them.
Hams and charctuerie, like any tapas joint, feature highly. The star of the show is Jamon Iberico that comes beautifully presented on a walnut cheese board. There are also some superb Italian cheeses to accompany the charcuterie. My favourite is the Truffle Pecorino. I adore Pecorino and with the addition of the distinctive truffle flavour it is something I would go back to Opera Tavern for.
On the reverse of the menu, which could be easily missed by diners, are the tapas dishes. There are a number of dishes that come under the headings of fish, meat and vegetable headings. Crsipy squid and sea purslane with chilli alioli was disappointing and seemed more at home at Livebait around the corner. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only thing that failed to ignite the taste buds. The confit of pork belly was under seasoned and its accompaniment of cannellini beans didn’t do the pork any favours. The salt marsh lamb leg with pumpkin gnocchi and salted anchovies made up for the pork and was served beautifully pink. The saltiness of the anchovies was a clever addition to the dish.
Gorgonzola and date croquettes are a clever little snack but incredibly rich with the inside melting into a peanut butter like consistency. Patata fritas with alioli and bravas were nothing more than a small portion of thin cut chips; a poor excuse for patata bravas which to me should be chunky cubes of potato with a spicy sauce.
The mini Iberico pork and foie gras burger and the moorish marinated Iberico pork skewers are the Maria Callas and Luciano Pavrotti dishes of Opera Tavern, the best in their class, ones that you will remember and always give an encore.
The service at Opera Tavern is pleasant and was relaxed, as it should be in a tapas restaurant. The problem I have with Opera Tavern is that the dishes are not consistent enough. One dish being stunning but the next disappointing. As it can when eating tapas, the bill can quickly mount and you can easily spend £50 a head including wine.
Opera Tavern is not yet ready to sing along with the two great tenors of the London tapas scene, Barrafina and its sister Dehesa but could one day be that third great tenor.