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: Heading to the Royal Opera House this month? We are the perfect spot for pre- or post-theatre dining in Covent Garden!
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
If you want to find out what the whole natural wine thing is all about, pay a visit to Terroirs. These minimally manipulated wines (most organic and/or biodynamic, made with little intervention from the winemakers) form nearly the whole list, and they keep this rustic-French-looking place jumping. Plenty are on offer by the glass, and while it’s not bargain-basement cheap, it accurately reflects the cost of producing these wines. If you’re more interested in the food than the vino, you won’t be disappointed: a changing list of small plates and plats du jour never falters in its high quality (or fair prices).Read more
As one door closes, so they say, another opens. As we process the sad news that Neal Street’s Food for Thought, a veggie institution with rock-bottom prices, is closing after more than 40 years, only a couple of streets over, newcomer Jar Kitchen shows how far good café food has come in that time – but also how some things never change. Most of us still need friendly places serving good, imaginative food at fair prices – especially in Covent Garden. Run by Lucy Brown and Jenny Quintero, this smart café sits at the northern end of Drury Lane. The kitchen is open to the ground-floor dining room where Brown, a former model agent, was busy greeting and waiting tables on our visit. So far, so ordinary. What makes Jar Kitchen super is the brief menu, prices midway between caff and restaurant, and delightful dishes. An Ottolenghi-ish mixed-grain salad looked great, with its pomegranate arils and fresh mint leaves, toasted almonds, roasted heirloom carrots and drizzle of coconut yoghurt. A sizeable bowl costs £8; for an extra £3, the kitchen adds shreds of braised lamb shoulder. Another simple but brilliant dish was a green chopped salad, costing a mere £3.50, featuring pert mixed leaves and an attractively tangy dressing. Jar Kitchen does vegetarian dishes well, but it’s not a vegetarian restaurant. Scraps of ‘ceviche style’ sea bass (£6.50) came with creamed avocado, chopped fennel, and a multi-seed dressing. Orther dishes might include roast pork belly, or lemon sole with brownRead 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
Venue says: Belgo Centraal is ready for Christmas! Our festive menu is just 25.95 for three courses. Visit http://www.belgo.com/book-christmas/ now.
There's more to this Belgian restaurant and bar than just mussels, even if the pots, platters and bowls of moules are what this long-standing chain is probably best known for. There are more than 52 Belgian beers on offer for starters, and a food menu that ranges from rotisserie-roasted chickens to burgers, steaks, short ribs of beef and crispy bellies of pork. This Covent Garden branch - the group's second of four in London - has been going for nearly 20 years. It's a huge space, with two separate rooms (a dining room and a beer hall) set over 12,000 square feet between Shelton Street and Earlham Street, just down from Seven Dials. Many visit for the mussels, and there's a range of different dishes on offer, from the 'traditionelle' cooked in a white wine, celery, garlic and onion broth to the Thai (lemongrass, chilli, ginger, kaffir lime, coconut and coriander) and the 'Monroe', cooked in Leffe Blonde beer with pancetta and shallots. Keep an eye out for express lunches, too.Read more
Take the back entrance into this fifth Polpo branch and immediately head downstairs. You'll enter a dusky, rustic cavern with bare concrete walls and a few flickering candles. This is where Soho and Covent Garden media types sip negronis until it's as dark outside as it is inside. It’s yet another ‘speakeasy’, what with its basement location, miniature dark wood stools and general lack of lighting, but this covert boozer wasn't born in the USA. Like the restaurant above, Dive Bar is Venetian-inspired (Aperol, Campari and Cynar mixes dominate the menu) and it serves some of the best spritzes in town. A great hideaway to know about in an area known for touristy pubs.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
Venue says: Honest, modern-Italian food in the heart of the West End. Sample our great cocktails, homemade food and comprehensive wine list! Ci Vediamo!
Aldwych is a funny old corner of London. I’ve been there hundreds of times, and seem to navigate it differently on each visit. Is this Drury Lane? Oh no, it’s the next one. What’s this one, then? Catherine Street. Never heard of it. Businesses must worry about repeat trade here, in case you never find them again. For restaurants, it’s probably academic: so much of their custom is from tourists and theatregoers in the world of the long-running musical. Four to Eight is on one of the spokes radiating from the gyratory’s north side, as you head up towards Covent Garden. In a handsome, wedge-shaped space, it’s light and glassy: it looks vaguely ‘contemporary’. And maybe that’s its problem. Four to Eight promises ‘beautiful, simple food’, which is a noble pursuit. Most of what we ate managed one or other, but rarely both. A small plate of slow-poached egg with chicken-skin crisp, cod roe and broccoli was mostly successful. It was certainly beautiful, with a delicate rosemary crumb. But the taramsalata consistency of the roe wasn’t that nice. Bottarga would have delivered a bit more punch, or maybe just leave it out altogether? Courgette flower with goat’s cheese was better: both pretty and straightforward. A main of black ink linguine with clams and cuttlefish was over-oily, which made the pasta slovenly. Though there were clamshells aplenty, their former inhabitants proved more elusive, shiftily skulking around the edges and unable to account for the whereabouts of half their nRead 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
Walking into Cantina Laredo, with its bright décor, thumping soundtrack and friendly greeters, you could be in any US mall – and that's no coincidence, because this is the London outpost of an American chain of Mexican restaurants. Some Americanisms have found their way onto the menu here: cilantro for coriander, zucchini for courgettes. The menu is straightforwardly Mexican and Tex-Mex. Tacos, enchiladas, flautas, empanadas and quesadillas all make an appearance. Guacamole is made at the table. There's also an ample selection of dishes from the grill (parrilla), including a mixed grill in which prawns, chicken and ribs all feature. Cocktails are a highlight, majoring on tequila (over 30 on offer) amd Margaritas as you would expect (both traditional and inovative). But they don't ignore the other spirits or cocktail families: a lychee martini is one of their house cocktails. They also offer hosted Tequila Dinners for groups of ten or more, in which three or four courses are matched with tequila cocktails.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
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
Venue says: We are the place for Sunday roasts. Slow-roast rump or prime rib, served all day from noon. Bring the family - the kids' roasts are on us!
The larger Covent Garden branch of Sophie's in Chelsea, with a nearly identical menu. It's right in the heart of the West End, so it proves popular with the theatre crowd. In fact, they get their own menu - served at lunchtime, from 5-7pm, and after 10pm. It's all about the beef here, more or less. It's all native breeds, and the rib for the Sunday roast comes from the 'family farm' in Oxfordshire. It's aged and butchered on the premises in a meat hanging room. Outside of the steaks there are burgers, ribs, salads, char-grilled tuna steaks and a lobster and avocado club. A nice touch: £1 plus VAT from every meal is donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Drinks range from cocktails, shorts and 10oz martinis to Schiehallion, Birra Moretti and guest beers on tap and a wine list taking in big-hitting wine making regions from across the globe.Read more
This is the London outpost of the eight-strong group of STK steakhouses, and the first outside the United States. Located in the ME Hotel, STK features a long, imposing central bar surrounded by the dining area featuring numerous semi-circular banquettes. Steak dominates the menu, naturally, with a selection of different cuts of USDA prime beef offered in a range of sizes. There is also a selection of 'Party' steaks to feed groups of up to ten people, a raw bar among other starter offerings, and a small selection of non-steak main courses. From Tuesday through Saturday there is a DJ in residence.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
NOTE: Since this review was published, Smoking Goat has begun serving lunch and taking reservations for lunch and for groups of six or more at both lunch and dinner. The Time Out Eating and Drinking Editors If you’re looking for adventurous eating, you can find it in Thailand. On one visit up near the Burmese border, I pulled my motorbike over to a roadside shack, attracted by the barbecue smell. ‘Paddy chicken’ was the garbled translation for what turned out to be chargrilled field rats. Not much meat on them, in case you’re wondering. You won’t find much paddy chicken in London, but you can find dishes that capture the spirit of Thai barbecue. Smoking Goat is a café-bar serving half-a-dozen snacks and meals inspired by street food. Low lighting and a barely legible menu make it hard to tell what you’re eating, but barbecued duck legs were a highlight: the well-rendered meat served with a watery version of nam jim jaew, tangy sour-and-sweet dipping sauce, plus sticky rice to mop up the juices. More challenging was a whole chilli crab, slathered in a spicy, sticky sauce. After cracking the shells, you eat by hand; the sauce goes everywhere. Not a dish to order on a hot date. Som tam was easier to handle, though this green papaya salad should have been worked over properly in a mortar and pestle. Smoking Goat is styled like a dive bar but has craft beers and a wine list that’s unusually well-matched to Thai food. Bar snacks such as fried chicken wings or roast scallops arRead 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: Belgo Holborn is ready for Christmas! Our festive menu is just 24.95 for three courses. Visit http://www.belgo.com/book-christmas/ now.
One of four Belgos in London - there are others in Bromley and Chalk Farm, as well as one nearby on Earlham Street - this Kingsway branch brings a similarly popular combination of moules, frites and Belgian beer. They're served in a venue that was once a bank, its safe now the Belgo beer cellar. The 52 Belgian beers by the bottle range from the well-known and recognisable (Stella Artois, Vedett, Duvel) to less oft-seen options such as Pauwel Kwak, Satan Red, Mongozo Coconut and Delirium Nocturnum. Make sure you keep an eye on the ABV - in true Belgian style, some are pretty potent. The mussels do brisk business here. They're served in kilo pots in a variety of broths (traditionelle, classic, Thai) as platters or in dishes such as the Espangole - cooked with roast tomato, chorizo, smoked paprika and potatoes. Outside of the moules there are burgers, steaks, rotisserie chicken dishes and the Belgo take on classic fish and chips.