One of the most wonderful things about living in London, is the sheer volume of restaurants. London gets a bad reputation for being expensive, and when it comes to drinks, then it’s probably quite fair. But when it comes to food I really disagree. The volume of restaurants mean that price is still a differentiating factor – you can get brilliant food at all price points. Cheap does not mean bad. But there’s another thing about the sheer quantity of restaurants in London that I love – the power of comparison! One of my all-time favourite cuisines is Spanish – not your crappy tapas chain, but proper Spanish food. And I reckon it’s only in London where I can fully indulge my quest for the best Jamón ibérico de bellota. There might be one brilliant Spanish restaurant in most UK cities, but in London there’s loads. And I revel in trying them all!
I’ll be adding a lot of retrospective reviews soon on ‘mi viaje culinario en Londres’, but I’ll start with one of my favourite Spanish restaurants of the moment – Opera Tavern. (http://www.operatavern.co.uk/)
Location & Atmosphere:
Opera Tavern is located near the Strand, and I’ve been a couple of times now. Both times I’ve spent a lot of time oohing and aahing about their Spanish and Italian inspired tapas. The building is two-storey, with downstairs having quite a large bar that you can sit at. The first time I went, it was just me and my boyfriend and we had a cosy table downstairs (but not at the bar). The atmosphere was lovely – bustling and chatty, but not frantic. And being near the bar really added to the environment, rather than detracting from it as can sometimes happen. But on our latest trip (this time 4 of us), we were ushered upstairs. Given our table was also booked for 10.15pm (post theatre, as this place is well located if you’ve been to see the Lion King. By the way, go and see the Lion King. It’s wonderful), I was worried that we’d be sat in a quiet, soulless room. But no, Opera Tavern definitely remains busy later on in the evening! Again, a perfect blend of hustle and bustle, but without being crammed in like cattle or having someone repeatedly knock the back of your head with a plate of food!
Oh God, the food… It’s a truly wonderful affair. It’s tapas, but with such flair and dedication that each plate feels like a gastronomic delight! I can’t say I’ve ordered anything disappointing here – and I’ve probably sampled around 20 different dishes during my two visits. My ‘Spanish Restaurant in London’ benchmark is Iberico Ham and Opera Tavern does not disappoint on this front. In fact its sister restaurant, Dehesa, is probably the best I’ve ever had, but Opera Tavern is not dissimilar. They make great use of their in-house charcoal grill when creating Mini Ibérico Pork and Foie Gras Burgers – the flavours blend together nicely, and the slight charcoal edge is a delight. Other stand out dishes include their Stuffed Courgette Flowers (stuffed with goats’ cheese and drizzled with honey), Confit of Old Spot Pork Belly with Rosemary Scented Cannellini Beans and their Scallops dish. In fact, I credit Opera Tavern with reinvigorating my love of scallops – it seemed like every restaurant in London decided to offer them (usually with the ubiquitous pea purée), but couldn’t get it right. This place really can. And then, what is probably the biggest testament I can give to a restaurant, one of their desserts still makes me giddy! I’m not really a dessert fan, usually preferring to enjoy a starter instead, or go down the cheese route. But I decided to try their Blood Orange Panacotta with Pistachio Crumble. I’m not very good at sharing food at the best of time, but rest assured, no one else got a chance to try it out. Ooh, it was good!
This place isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely worth the money as a treat. The portions are not huge, so don’t go expecting major platefuls of food. Instead, revel in the opportunity to try lots of different flavours. And whilst the menu seems to retain a few favourites, the rest is updated according to the season, so there’s always going to be something new to try. If you fancy pushing the boat out, but want a relatively relaxed environment, I would strongly recommend this place.