Monday, 31 January 2011

Opera Tavern, WC2

Just down the road from the Royal Opera House and looking out at the back of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Opera Tavern opened last week on the site of a former 19th century pub.  New sister venue to Salt Yard and Dehesa in Goodge Street and Ganton Street respectively Opera Tavern also focuses on Spanish and Italian inspired tapas.  

(I must apologise in advance for the terrible pictures - and these really are the best of a bad bunch)

While we studied the double sided menu we ordered glasses of sherry as aperitifs - these were nicely chilled and served surprisingly large which seemed a fairly good omen straight off.

As this is essentially a tapas restaurant we decided to order in stages rather than have everything come at once and swamp us: particularly as there were so many things we wanted to try.

First off were the Padron Peppers at £4.25, the Italian Style Scotch Egg at £3.50 and a couple of the Mini Iberico Pork and Foie Gras Burgers (£5.50 each).  I also wanted to try the Crispy Iberico Pig Ears but as I was very much alone in that I'll have to leave them for another time.

The peppers are small green chillies from the Padron municipality of Spain: fried in olive oil until tender and slightly charred and tossed with sea salt.  These were very good, the only disappointment being that there wasn't a stray super hot one lurking in the portion!

The scotch eggs (sorry - really bad pic) were super tasty and perfectly cooked with a soft boiled egg nestling in a well seasoned veal casing all coated  in crisp breadcrumbs.  A little scattering of sea salt in which to lightly dip the egg was a nice, if obviously simple, touch.  The blob of mayonnaise on the side was superfluous in my opinion. Largely because the scotch egg was so tasty on it's own anyway.

So on to the mini pork & foie gras burgers which were quite simply the best that we had possibly ever eaten anywhere.  The burger patty itself was cooked medium rare and oh man was it ever succulent, juicy and full of flavour. Topped with tiny crisp onion rings which added a nice contrast and served with a mini side of pickled green chilis whose acidity and crunch were themselves a perfect foil to the rich (but in a perfect way) burger.

I could gladly have ordered more of these alone and probably would have if there weren't so many other things that sounded delicious that we wanted to try.

By now our sherries were well gone and so we ordered a bottle of the Honoro Vera organic Monastrell.  On one hand I picked it as it wasn't a grape with which I was familiar but also as it was organic - this was a ridiculously drinkable, extremely fruity red balanced with soft tannins that didn't bite back.

And so on to order more food: Gorgonzola and Date Croquettes (£4.50), Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Goat's Cheese and drizzled with Honey (£7.55), Salt Marsh Lamb Leg with Pumpkin Gnocchi, Salted Anchovies and Mint (£6.50) and Confit of Old Spot Pork Belly with Rosemary scented cannellini beans (£6.65).

I won't bother with a picture of the croquettes (as frankly it's completely rubbish) but they were nice enough.  Sweetly rich, the date being quite pronounced they didn't really rock my world like some of the other dishes did and to be honest it was probably the only plate where I felt that there was probably a bit too much of it.

The stuffed courgette flowers, while also having sweetness due to being drizzled with honey, also had the counterbalancing creamy sharpness of the goat's cheese and were very good.

Next up the lamb with gnocchi.  Again, excellent.  The lamb was served medium rare and beautifully tender with the odd little morsel of crunchy salty anchovy giving a great umami-rich contrast to the silky lamb.  The pumpkin gnocchi were like minature light fluffy pillows. To be honest I didn't notice any mint but I really didn't mind.

A lovely little square of perfectly cooked pig belly was next, nestled in a pool of rosemary scented beans.  The pork itself was flavourful, moist and tender with a nicely crisp crackling.  It was very good generally but the beans were perhaps just a tiny bit on the bland side.

At this point we decided that perhaps we hadn't really had enough of our 5 a day and so ordered the Salad of Pickled Salsify, Chestnuts and Roosevelt Potatoes with Winter Truffle Dressing (£5.50) and because we were intrigued the Grilled Iberico Presa with Capers, Shallots and Lemon (£8).


I really enjoyed this but then I really like salsify anyway and, like jerusalem artichokes, I think it has a natural affinity with truffle.  This was a cold dish with pickled salsify ribbons, thin discs of potato, little morsels of what seemed like candied chestnut with specks of black truffle in the dressing.  I thought it came together very well and had a hint of refreshing sharpness.

Presa it turns out is a Spanish cut of pork, the muscle between the top of the shoulder and the beginning of the loin.  Once more this was served medium rare with a lovely shallot and caper sauce.  The shallots giving a mellow richness that was cut through with the acidity of the lemon and the sharpness of the capers.

Believe it or not we were still up for more and so ordered the Tuscan Truffle Pecorino (£6).

Served with a little bowl of very fragrant honey and what I think was sesame Pane Carasau (Sicilian crisp flatbread) this was delicious.  The firm but creamy ewe's milk cheese is injected with truffle paste resulting in a subtle truffle infusion.  The three elements together worked extremely well as can be seen by the "don't interrupt me!" concentration in eating it!

And so finally onto desserts - Homemade Biscotti and Bitter Chocolate and Hazelnut Truffles that came with a glass of vin santo (£8.85) and Bitter Chocolate Fondant with Salted Pistachio Caramel and Milk Ice Cream (£5.50) with a glass of Pedro Ximenez (£6.20).

To be honest by this time we were fit to burst and in a bit of a food gluttony haze. Both were very good - especially the salted pistachio caramel with the creamy yet fresh tasting ice cream.  I do remember that the PX was excellent - intense, dark and concentrated.

We ate a lot, drank a fair amount and the total bill came to a shade under £120.  A bonus then that there was 50% off food during the first week while they ironed out any creases (there weren't any - the food was generally spot on, some of it amazing and the service charming) but even without the 50% off I'll definite be back to sample those bits on the menu we couldn't quite stuff in this time.

Opera Tavern, 23 Catherine Street WC2B 5JS

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