If you fancy some spice, are itching for Italian or are just in the mood for a great burger, Covent Garden has a range of restaurants to satisfy. Try Clos Maggiore for traditional French fare or Opera Tavern for Spanish. Wherever you go for dinner, get dessert from gelateria Scoop. Check out our guide to the best mid-priced dining options in Covent Garden. Don't forget to read our guides to cheap eats and fine dining in Covent Garden. Do you agree with our choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Venue says: One of Covent Garden's best dining options and among London’s top tapas bars, Opera Tavern serves Spanish-Italian dishes in the cosy setting of a former pub.
Despite growing competition, the Opera Tavern remains one of Covent Garden's best dining options and among London’s top tapas restaurants. Formerly a pub, it’s split into a slightly charmless upstairs restaurant and a cosy, mirror-backed bar at street level. The latter has been stylishly updated with chocolate leather bar stools, copper spotlights and an open grill; the main kitchen is in the beer cellar. The Spanish-Italian menu is kept fresh with regular specials. The signature burger of juicy ibérico pork and foie gras remains deservedly popular, though more inventive combinations better showcase the kitchen’s delicate touch and careful sourcing of ingredients. Char-coated venison was enlivened by jerusalem artichoke, pickled walnuts and truffle, while the natural sweetness of scallops (served in the shell) was balanced by a feather-light pea, fennel and mint purée. Watch out, though: portions are dainty and it’s easy to rack up a hefty bill. The Spanish and Italian wine list is well curated; smooth and nutty manzanilla pasada is the ideal aperitif for sherry sceptics. Little touches such as allowing diners a taste before committing to a glass exemplify the sophisticated, amiable service. Opera Tavern is part of the Salt Yard Group, along with Dehesa in Soho and Salt Yard in Fitzrovia.Read more
A swish Bombay brasserie in the style of the old post-colonial 'Irani cafés' of Bombay, Dishoom is filled with retro design features: whirring ceiling fans, low-level lighting and walls adorned with vintage Indian magazine advertising. The look is certainly distinctive, but the effect can be so slick when compared to the real thing that the venue can feel rather soulless and corporate. This doesn’t stop the design-conscious and Indophile thronging here through the day, from breakfast (for sausage nan rolls with chilli jam) to dinner (for the stir-fries and tandoori grills). The main attraction though is the menu, loosely styled on Irani café food with birianis, bhel (crunchy puffed rice with tangy tamarind chutney) and even pau bhaji (toasted white bread rolls with a spicy vegetable stew as a filling). Our black dal was exemplary, and the lamb biriani suitably moist. We particuarly like the endlessly refilled house chai (Indian-style tea), but the other drinks are interesting too – excellent lassi concoctions, good wines by the glass, even the soft drinks Limca and Thums Up in glass bottles imported from Mumbai. Queues are common in the evening (bookings are taken for breakfast and lunch, but only for groups at dinner), though the basement bar helps make the wait more than bearable.Read more
How did food get quite so rock ’n’ roll? This summer London’s teeming with ‘gourmet’ fast food joints, rooftop pop-up bars, night food markets and street food vendors. This new wave of edgier eateries are changing the game for restaurateurs too – crisp tablecloths and prim service are out, industrial-chic décors and young, liberally pierced and tattooed staff are in. One chef who’s at the fore of the latest trends is Ross Shonhan. His first solo venture, Bone Daddies, is a self-styled ‘rock and roll’ ramen joint that opened just last year. It’s still making a big noise, literally, with New York-style Japanese noodle dishes and the sound system cranked up loud enough to make conversation a challenge. Hidden in a capacious Covent Garden basement, Shonhan’s second venture is no less modish. Once again he’s taken influence from the Big Apple for his East Asian eats, with a side order of loud rock music. As for the décor and staff: see above. This time the focus of the menu is hirata buns. A US interpretation of a Taiwanese street food, the sweet and fluffy dough is folded then steamed before being brought to the table. Diners then stuff these pockets with their choice of ‘flesh’. These are the signature dish, and a must-try. Mustard miso and a few slices of subtly pickled apple were a perfect foil for tender pulled pork. Crisp-skinned grilled sea bass was also skilfully cooked and served with a fresh tomato salsa. Small plates include sushi rolls, contemporary sashimi and temRead more
Venue says: The nice thing about 'menu del dia' or set menu is that the food is always fresh and made in a home-cooked manner. Weekdays for £7.50.
It’s always a good sign when the waitress insists you start your night with a sherry. This little tapas joint off Covent Garden has dark wooden tables for two opposite the bar, and larger tables lining the wall at the back. The menu is small but varied. Pick up citrusy pulled pork quesadillas or spicy chicken chipotle bocadillo sandwiches for lunch, or come for dinner specials that change weekly and, of course, a glass of sherry. Condesa takes its tapas inspiration from across Spain and Latin America, so you might find unexpected dishes on the menu, such as the little pan of grilled provolone cheese – a typical Argentinian tapa. It’s not good for your cholesterol levels, but it spreads so easily over fresh bread, your doctor would surely understand. Pork cheeks were succulent, with strands of meat falling into a puréed carrot sauce; however, seasoning was timidly applied. Mole tacos had a dense, meaty filling wrapped in the softest of corn tortillas. We loved the half carafes of wine too, as they provide a convivial way to graze across the menu and pair wine accordingly.Read more
The wooden chairs and tables spilling on to the pavement beneath a wide blue awning, the small room with its white walls, the bonhomie of the chef and patron, the buzz of a contented local crowd – all play to the popular image of a French wine bar. But you’d be hard-pressed to find as considered, interesting and wide-ranging a wine list across the Channel. The ‘10 cases’ of the name refer to the maximum quantity bought in, which keeps the line-up fresh and seasonal. The 20-plus wines on the list, available by glass, carafe and bottle, will likely be gone when you next visit – a shame, if the quality of much of what we tried is any indicator. The food has taken time to match these standards, but we’ve been more impressed of late. There are snacks such as pimientos de padrón and salt and pepper squid, but the focus is on more formal starters and mains: satisfying bistrot-inflected Modern European cooking. Braised pork belly with pea and bean ragoût, and red mullet with lentils and coriander and chilli pesto, were well made and resonant with flavour. If you’re here mainly for wine, decamp to the shop next door where you can drink in small quantities from Enomatic dispensers or pay £12 corkage to quaff your purchase, along with a few meat, cheese or salad plates.Read more
Jamie Oliver has got everything right at his chain of mid-priced restaurants designed to compete with the likes of Carluccio’s, Giraffe and Strada. It certainly leaves those last two in the shade. At our latest visit to the Covent Garden branch, someone knocked a nearly full bottle of red wine off a neighbour’s table and the staff couldn’t have been nicer about it. They supplied colouring sheets, crayons and retro View-Masters (with picture menus) to the kids, and didn’t get flustered when we changed our order three times. What’s really a very large space is divided artfully by a central bar, bread station, welcome point and meat bar (featuring cured meats hanging from the ceiling). There’s also a second basement floor and an unusually large number of alfresco tables front and back. We chose small portions of pasta so that we could try the enticing antipasti too, but you can also order pasta dishes in main-course sizes; in addition, there’s a choice of fish or meat dishes, such as steaks, fish stew and whole roasted sea bass. Prawn linguine and a spring vegetable pasta dish were both full of flavour. Crispy polenta chips sprinkled with rosemary, sea salt and parmesan, and a courgette flower stuffed with four cheeses offered interesting tastes and textures. The children wolfed down their burger and spaghetti bolognese too. No wonder the place is packed.Read more
Romantic settings don’t get more splendidly over-the-top than this. Take your pick from the wood-panelled restaurant or the atmospheric conservatory, bedecked in a forest of fake white blossoms that seem to extend into eternity as they bounce off the restaurant’s mirrors. Fairy lights, candles and a fireplace add to the soft focus vibe. On our early evening visit, tables were filled with mature couples and curious tourists. It’s a Provençal-inspired menu, and although à la carte choices are pegged at the sharp end, the pre-theatre menu offering is a bargain. A cavernous bowl of gazpacho topped with crunchy croûtons and diced cucumber blew our socks off (in a good way) with its unashamedly pungent garlicky kick. Satisfyingly filling, a trio of meaty bites – foie gras terrine, herby pork shoulder confit and a tasty kofta – made for a carnivore’s delight. Less memorable, chunky roasted pollock fillet was tender and juicy, but overshadowed by a rich moat of vermouth cream, buttery crushed potatoes and softened leeks (more butter) – not one for the faint-hearted. Service is polished, if a tad austere, and the wine selection seriously impressive.Read more
If you are looking for the unconnected restaurant run by Australian chef Bill Granger, called Granger & Co, click here; Bill's (London) is not connected to bills (Sydney). Growing like topsy, Bill’s now stretches from its East Sussex home right across the south of England and into Wales. This St Martin’s Courtyard branch was the first in the capital and now one of two in Covent Garden alone. The formula is clearly working. Grocery-lined shelves add plenty of colour, if not turnover. Cutlery is piled in old McCann’s oatmeal tins. Blackboards are ‘chalked’ with recipes, chirpy ideas for increasing your spend, and invitations to become friends on Facebook. The broad menu and relaxed style suits many an occasion, from breakfast to post-theatre cocktails. Several tables were indulging in traditional afternoon tea on our visit (at under a tenner, it’s a wallet-friendly alternative to nearby hotels), but we opted for the ‘lighter mains’ section of the menu. Grilled sea bream wasn’t London’s most sparkling, and paired with a ‘cous cous’ of grated raw cauliflower, watercress and lemon, the predominant flavour was bitterness. Warm pecan pie arrived a mix of searingly hot and lukewarm in temperature, though the flavour was fine and the malted banana ice-cream that accompanied it was delicious. Service was well meaning if a tad slow and scatty. In all, Bill’s is good to know.Read more
It’s little wonder Polpo IV’s starting to look like a chain restaurant, presenting fans with a creeping sense of déjà vu. Here (again) are the tin ceiling tiles, the filament light bulbs, the zinc bar tops, even the staff with heavy tattoos. Polpo Soho is simply more of the same. Polpo’s kitchen here is still on form though. The meatball section has been beefed up, and our pork and fennel version was moist and well spiced, served in a rich and flavour-packed tomato sauce. Heritage tomatoes were superior to the usual pallid varieties we get in the UK, partly helped by a dressing which seemed to intensify their ripe, summery flavour. Ingredient quality was good, such as a fresh mozzarella ball, served on a base of peeled broad beans and pea shoots. A ‘white pizza’ (no tomato) topped with anchovy had appealingly chewy dough, crisp in places. The only miss was the grilled focaccia. Placing thick bread on a hot grill doesn’t toast it, it merely brands it with tramlines – which although they look interesting when it’s served, don’t do anything for the flavour or texture of the focaccia. The differences to the other Polpos are subtle. This one has a larger bar than its counterparts. But like the others, this has a no-reservations policy for dinner: very convenient for the restaurateur, but much less helpful for the diner.Read more
A product of the noughties gastropub boom, Great Queen Street still turns out dishes in the tradition of its antecedents, and of the year it was founded (2007). Yet despite the casual feel, pub-like look and cacophony of voices, this is no pub – it’s a sit-down restaurant where bookings are almost essential. The excellent location, mere steps away from central Covent Garden, ensures its perennial popularity. The prized outdoor tables are almost never vacant, but walk-ins may find space at the bar stools towards the back, where the full menu is also served. The menu changes daily, is produce-led and is predominantly British. There’s minimal fussing with ingredients; for example, a plump piece of bone-in smoked mackerel was served with a dollop each of cooked gooseberries and horseradish. Pork had been slow-cooked before having a generous quantity of cockles added to the stew. Vegetarian dishes are sometimes less imaginative, such as a simple tart of roast pepper, tomato and new-season garlic. Puddings might include a semifreddo, or an apricot and almond tart. The dozen or so wines by the glass are relatively affordable rather than covetable, a clue to Great Queen Street’s priorities.Read more
Venue says: New ownership since late 2012 has given this Theatreland old-timer a shot in the arm. Not much has changed in terms of decor; the slightly scuffed basement...
New ownership since late 2012 has given this Theatreland old-timer a shot in the arm. Not much has changed in terms of decor; the slightly scuffed basement room still has the same happy mix of show posters and photos on bare brick walls, and a pianist still tinkles away in the evenings. The biggest change is in the much-improved kitchen, which is now producing decent-to-good versions of American brasserie standards. You’ll find big salads (including a punchy but balanced bowlful of avocado, pecan, bacon and blue cheese dressing), fish dishes (yellowfin tuna with avocado and coriander salsa was a good piece of fish exactly grilled, though the salsa contained little coriander), egg dishes, chilli con carne and steaks (a small sirloin steak was cooked as requested, and came with plentiful golden fries). Old favourites – the black bean soup, for example – remain. A membrillo-like strawberry jelly with roasted peanut ice-cream was, like the rest of the dishes we tried, good without being memorable. As for drinks, all bases are covered by a choice of reasonably priced cocktails, a range of US beers, a global wine list and properly made coffee. The other major difference is in the service: it’s now efficient and comes with a smile.Read more
Part of a global chain of some 80 outlets (but with just three in London), this cheery restaurant clearly retains its modern Neapolitan roots – and its popularity. The paintwork and crockery are as bright as the smiles of the welcoming staff, while the mosaic-tiled pizza unit (complete with wood-fired oven) inspires confidence. This carries through, in part, to the swiftly supplied dishes. Neapolitan flour makes for a nicely chewy pizza dough, charred and smoky, while the tomato sauce is zesty; handmade scialatielli pasta had intrinsic flavour and sound texture; air-freighted buffalo milk cheeses delighted with their freshness. Stray too far from Naples, though, and disappointment might ensue. On our ‘affettati’ plate, the caponatina from Sicily was barely more than chopped, bland tomato on toast; parma ham was young, crude and ill-flavoured. Among the ices, buffalo milk ‘fior di latte’ was great, others less so. Prices aren’t too steep, but don’t quite carry the lapses. Nonetheless, the place was buzzing with Italians eager for a taste of home.Read more
For a while it seemed like Russell Norman was the man with the Midas touch when it came to setting up successful London eateries. But then Ape & Bird opened, and it didn’t exactly get off to a flying start. Time Out’s reviewers visited this restaurant and bar on Shaftesbury Avenue three times within its first couple of months, but each time we left feeling disappointed about the latest venture from the man responsible for the Polpo restaurants as well as Spuntino.Half a year on, the Ape & Bird’s had a substantial refit – and started serving a menu remarkably similar to its Polpo siblings.This spot doesn’t just ape its siblings though. Familiar Polpo-esque fittings (like the moulded ceilings) meet younger, more casual features such as multi-coloured plastic beakers, and fresh-faced service staff. The menu lists small plates (many Italian-inspired) like Polpo, but also offers thin-crust pizzas from a new oven near the entrance. Topped with thin slices of cured pork shoulder (coppa) and pickled jalapeño pepper rings, ours was fine, if a little too thin.Of the small plates, deep-fried cauliflower served on a bed of hummus-like chickpea purée and scattered with whole chickpeas and pickled lemon chunks had a decent balance of sharp and earthy flavours, and an array of interesting textures. Slices of charred lamb leg cooked medium and served with pea shoots, and fresh peas was also flavoursome although the peas were a little starchy. Ape & Bird also do a good, rich, dark chocolate bRead more
Delightfully retro, Mon Plaisir is a long-standing Covent Garden fixture popular with theatregoers, tourists and, for some reason, studenty types out with their parents. Knick-knacks (framed prints, copper pans) abound in the four interconnecting dining areas, and there are even red-and-white checked tablecloths. Cooking focuses on bistro classics of the coq au vin, pork rillettes and steak- frites variety. A first course of onion tarte tatin was faultless – we appreciated the thyme-infused roast red onion half on a crisp puff pastry base, crowned with tangy goat’s cheese and finished with peppery caramel syrup. Good news continued with a light yet intensely flavoured dish of seared scallops and steamed clams accompanied by reduced stock, cream and cooking juices from the clams. Desserts weren’t in the same league – a chocolate profiterole filled with fresh mint ice-cream was overshadowed by an avalanche of stodgy chocolate sauce. Equally dispiriting, dark and milk chocolate mousse, served in a glass, was fridge-cold and leaden in texture. Service can be brusque when the tables get busy. If you’re after a bargain, check out the great value pre-theatre and set lunch deals.Read more
An eye-catching summer street-food cart fronts the tall, sleek glass exterior of Suda, creating some character in what is an otherwise generic shopping-centre/café space. There’s also a pretty display of victoria sponge cakes and British tea-time classics, helping to lure in footsore Covent Garden shoppers and sightseers. Navigate carefully through the menu (dried shrimps and oyster sauce are both found in the ‘vegetarian’ section) and you’ll discover some interesting Thai dishes. To start, braised duck wrapped in steamed rice sheets arrived as bite-sized portions sitting in a sweet chilli dip. Mains include various types of som tam (green papaya salad) with a choice of grilled meat. The classic street-food dish gai yang (barbecued chicken) worked well with the shreds of well-pounded green papaya soaking up the tangy lime and chilli dressing. But other dishes were as westernised and contemporary as the venue itself. Beef penang, for instance, turned out to be a slab of overcooked beef fillet in a shallow dish of albeit rich and fragrant curry drizzled with coconut milk. Service was kindly yet not the most attentive.Read more
Situated (apparently since 1871) just near enough to Covent Garden Piazza to be a tourist trap, this corner café has prices that reflect its location – charging from £15 for fish and chips, and £5 for a fish cake, sausage or saveloy. It’s enough to make any Londoner think twice, and yet still they come. Fish, whichever species you decide on, is clearly fresh and flaky, but can be disappointing in size once the crispy batter has been negotiated. Our chips, fried in groundnut oil, were so randomly shaped we suspected the cutter had been distracted from his job; they were dry and bland too. Nevertheless, the minimalist menu also yielded side dishes of coleslaw and mushy peas that were of a decent standard. To cope with the crowds, the management seem to opt for over-staffing, but service on our visit was efficient and unobtrusive. That said, expect a sense of being rushed if you arrive at a popular time of day.Read more
This Portuguese café in Covent Garden recently reopened, having expanded with a new second entrance onto Shorts Gardens. The look has been refined: teal blue wooden panelling around the walls, old wireless radios fastened to one wall, and a more discreet servery. It's fully table service, with 10% added even if you're just popping in for a coffee. Canela clearly has aspirations and has moved towards the prevailing trend of small plates menu paired with a wine bar vibe. The mainly Portuguese wine list is interesting with plenty of choice, while the food menu remains a mix of Portuguese and Brazilian. We've been eating here for years, and much the same observation holds true before the refurb, and after: it's a nice place, but pricey for what you get. Simple, peasant-style home cooking, such as a dish of bacalhau (salt cod) with potatoes and eggs, is cheekily priced at £15 for a small 'mai'n portion size – especially when there were still small fishbones in parts of the dish. And with the small plates costing upwards of £7 each, this is not the place to come for bargain Portuguese or Brazilian meal. However, the service is engaging and the atmosphere pleasant, making this a good spot to pop into for a glass of wine and snack when you're in Covent Garden.Read more
For theatregoers this understated restaurant is a bona fide West End hit. Playing nightly to an appreciative audience, waistcoated staff nimbly navigate the tables (which bear starched-linen tablecloths) under the careful orchestration of the immaculate maître d’. The pace is fast but never rushed; the approach formal, but never brusque. That said, the gloss of French savoir faire stops short of the menu, which has merely a whisper of Gallic flourish in the shape of escargots bourguignon or pan-fried foie gras with toasted brioche. Chef Simon Conboy regales diners with the kind of classics that have become ‘British’ favourites, be that pork belly with mustard mash, chargrilled ribeye of Scottish beef, or green thai prawn curry. It’s proficient cooking with decent ingredients at a fair price (especially if you look to the two- and three-course set menus). Braised ox cheeks were richly dense yet tender, while rump of lamb was cooked just so, medium rare. The boom and bust rhythms of pre- and post-theatre diners mean that Le Deuxième isn’t a relaxed destination, but should you pass by mid-performance, about 8pm, you might just walk in and get a table.Read more
With the original Hoxton Market restaurant of this Hellenic chain now closed, the Real Greek seems past its best. There’s still life left at the Covent Garden branch, though. On a Monday night, the air buzzed with the intercontinental chatter of tourists, as slick, friendly staff served dishes speedily. Within 30 seconds of ordering, an aggressively garlicky bowl of melitzanosaláta was on the table. Ten minutes later, it was joined by the cinnamon aromatics of three tart, creamy tyrópitta; five minutes after that, a curiously bitter lamb souvláki arrived. The seating arrangement doesn’t encourage lingering, with punters perched on bar stool-like seats and at high tables of varnished dark wood. Add the metal bucket of Mythos beer bottles that sits atop a cabinet, plus a prominent spirits display, and you have a venue that feels half-bar, half-restaurant. Typical decorative Greek touches are provided by big bunches of dried red chillies and net bags of garlic hanging in the window, a mini olive tree on the sill, and bottles of Cretan Latzimas olive oil joining the salt and pepper on tables. A perfectly pleasant place, but not somewhere for a leisurely repast.Read more
What’s in a name? The Forge has rebranded itself as Heaton Butler & Bayne, but the owners, atmosphere and even some of the dishes are little changed. Even the new tables, chairs and colour scheme are remarkably similar. The pared-down, daily-changing menu features modern (and less modern) British/European dishes such as chicken liver parfait or asparagus and spring onion risotto. Our lamb rump was precisely cooked and served on a bed of grilled courgette slices scattered with hazelnut pieces and drizzled with a soupçon of rich jus. Dish prices are on the steep side (for £11 we would have wanted a dressed crab starter to really sing – it didn’t), but the set menu is reasonable at £19.50 for three courses.Read more