Bang opposite the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, a former pub that’s now a offshoot – in what’s essentially a high-quality bistro format – of the Salt Yard/Dehesa tapas empire; its attractions for Covent Garden lunchers and theatre-goers are self-evident.
ntil recently, the rule was pretty simple: Covent Garden restaurants were for dumb tourists and theatre-goers. There were a few exceptions, very few, but the likes of Orso and Joe Allen’s were very much ‘local secrets’. The almost invariable rule was that grim mediocrity prevailed.
The wind of change that’s been sweeping through Soho in recent times, however, is now beginning to make itself felt even in neighbouring Covent Garden. In the particular case of the Opera Tavern – a formerly undistinguished boozer, opposite the Theatre Royal – there’s a practical link in the transformation. The landords here also own the site of Soho’s popular Dehesa, and they encouraged their tenants to consider opening here in Covent Garden too.
The many fans of Dehesa – and of the original member of the group, Salt Yard, in Fitzrovia – will find few surprises in the formula at this operation which is named a 'tavern’ and which describes itself as a ‘restaurant and tapas bar’. The tavern description is most applicable to the bar downstairs; the upstairs room looks like a bistro. The food offer is the same throughout, however, as is the extensive and interesting wine list.
The wide-ranging menu mainly has a Hispanic sensibility (without being classically Spanish), and distinguishes between ‘tapas’ and ‘charcuterie’, but everything could really simply be described as ‘small plates’. We had a reasonable variety of dishes from both sides of the menu, and everything was somewhere between good and very good – for an informal lunch or pre-theatre meal, this is pretty much the perfect venue.
Whether the small plate formula would work quite so well for dinner may be rather a matter of personal taste. On the downside, the novelty which drew attention to the two prior locations is now gone. On the other hand, there’s the joy of finding such a decent place to eat in such a prominent Covent Garden location. And that, let’s not forget, is still rather remarkable in itself.