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The Opera Tavern (Bar, Restaurant)

Picture of The Opera Tavern in West End, London

23 Catherine Street, West End, London, WC2B 5JS
Cuisine: Tapas
Tel: 020 7836 3680 | Email to The Opera Tavern | Transport: Covent Garden | Write review

The Opera Tavern Review

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Best for: Conversation and decent Spanish/Italian tapas.

Great: seafood choices; West End location; Spanish heavy wine list.

Gordon Ramsay has got it all wrong. Gary Rhodes hasn’t got a clue. And Jamie Oliver, he needs to try something new today if he really wants to flourish. This expansive, over-dominating tactic of more, bigger, further (!!) just isn’t going to cut it in the long run. The sagacious success lies in two adjectives and one noun: small; local; and conversation.

Exhibit A: Small.
This diminutive Spanish/Italian tapas restaurant in Covent Garden is the 3rd installment from the Sanja & Simon Mullins’ family, sibling to Dehesa in Soho and Salt Yard in Fitzrovia. As with the previous ventures, there is no need for big and brash. Just enough room for some brass lanterns, an etched brasserie mirror, and a loud cloud of chatter. Unlike some London restaurants - which have as much life as an A-level Maths exam held on the surface of the Moon - there’s no need to wield the fancy stick to make a statement here. Thankfully, The Opera Tavern lives up to its dramatic moniker.

Exhibit B: Local.
Fitzrovia, Soho, Covent Garden. It doesn’t take an A-level Maths student/astronaut to see a pattern arising here. The Mullinses aim is simple: keep up with the Joneses. Or in this case, the Normans. Russell Norman’s small sharing style West End restaurants - Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino and soon-to-launched Da Polpo in Covent Garden - have proved this.

Exhibit C: Conversation.
It started with a glass of Prosecco. Even before the second sip, there was an agreement about the big hoof pointing at us from the bar. “Yes, you!” it was saying. We knew what to do; ask our convivial waitress to supply us with a couple of dishes from the charcoal grill, because that’s what you do at a place like The Opera Tavern. Hoof or no hoof.

Moments after tucking into the excellent Gressingham duck with fig, there was talk. Talk about Mum’s pants, and not just any Mum’s pants, but the pants of the Mum of the delightfully loquacious daughter across the table. These Mum pants were small, superhero small, because her Mum had the superhero power of shrinking (anything in the wash). This exchange was shared prior to the chorizo with piquillo & marjoram, which she liked but wasn’t wowed by and I thought wasn’t equal to the sum of its parts.

Bypassing the charcuterie and cheese in favour of tapas, we meandered down the conversational equivalent of a dark, fairytale woodland path, dressed in metaphorical red hooded capes. As we nattered about Ziggy the cross-eyed fish - who is not actually crossed-eyed, just blessed with different coloured eyes, hence the nod to Bowie - we merrily consumed a charming duo of Ziggy’s distant cousins: the soft, not squeaky (as expected), squid slid joyfully down the path with us, ignoring the unimpressive attempts at potency from the chilli alioli; whilst the sea bream with Monk’s Beard and capers cut through the dense figurative forest with its buttery smoked anchovy dressing. And a few brief gulps of organic, honeyed 2009 Cantine Carpentiere from Puglia didn’t so much calm the situation as rub its feet, give it a neck massage, and make it a nice hot water bottle.

We paused briefly to consider the creatures in our allegorical woods. At the bar: quite an unfashionable crowd of tourists and people who couldn’t get last minute tickets to see The Lion King. At the tables: an array of couples, sharing, gliding through a decent first, or even better third, date.

Her-across-the-table mentioned that the Maasai (of Mara) had been on her back lately, an intriguing segue into a new conversation, an almost requisite preamble to the compelling, sweet, pull apart ox cheek with thyme, pickled walnuts, roast parsnip & puree.

The courgette flowers stuffed with goats’ cheese and drizzled with honey were particularly distracting, halting a conversation about the vortex, which isn’t a gay club (although it is next to a gay club), but a supermarket that sells absolutely nothing aside from big f**k-off bags of basmati rice. The power of dialogue combined in that moment with deliciously inventive food to create exactly that: a moment.

Expensive tapas such as this needs only one key ingredient: conversation. The few basic errors (chilli alioli, fluctuating room temperature, bright lights) can be overlooked as it’s easy to lose 4 transient hours at a restaurant like this. In summary: Gordon, Gary, and Jamie, suburb by suburb, boys! It’s only a matter of time before Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Balham (wishful thinking) follow suit.
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Customer Reviews for The Opera Tavern

Average (based on 1 votes): 1 Atmosphere: Value: Quality:

The following customer reviews are not endorsed by Fluid London and are simply those of users who wish to publish their independent experiences of The Opera Tavern.

“I head down to London on a regular basis to meet up with friends and loved ones in the West End for a show and a nice bite to eat at a posh restaurant or two (we don't get them in Leicester) so this reasonably new tapas restaurant in Covent Garden is a true find. Fantastic wine list and brilliant fish tapas.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
Sally Fortune, Leicester (7 years 6 months 22 days ago)

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