23 Catherine Street Covent Garden London WC2B 5JS
With its pig trotter door-handles, sculpted in brass, and its beer pump in the shape of a Spanish haunch of ham, Opera Tavern makes no bones of the fact that it’s all about the pork. Well nearly. A smart and convivial conversion of a grotty old pub around the corner from the Royal Opera House, it’s from the same team that brought you the wildly successful Salt Yard and Dehesa restaurants, and, as at those places the food, while mainly Spanish, has all sorts of creative Italian twists that take it out of familiar tapas bar terrain. Ingredients are predominantly free-range or organic, and sourced from the British Isles – apart from the Iberico ham, of course, from acorn-fed and semi-wild pigs, which is irresistible. We’re more used to encountering it cured and dried, as jamon Iberico, eaten with bread, but here you can try it in a burger, cooked on a charcoal grill, or even in a tartare. As is de rigueur nowadays, the menu is based on small dishes for sharing, to be enjoyed with a range of fine wines (Spanish and Italian only) by the glass – the sherry selection is superb too. Cheese and charcuterie are top-notch, as are the pinchos morunos – tasty little skewers of meat cooked on the charcoal grill. Other big hits include richly indulgent deep-fried courgette flowers with goat’s cheese and honey, and truffle croquettes. Sit downstairs in the bar area rather than in the more formal upstairs dining room, but beware – as is always the case in these small plate hotspots, prices can mount.