Eating at the opéra, in my limited experience, is always expensive and often a bit of a shot in the dark. And I mean that whether you’re getting some sandwiches and a glass of wine or going for the full gut-busting blow out with gallons of booze on the side. This time we strayed more towards the latter option but hoped to lock in value and convenience by choosing our menu in advance of arrival at the Amphitheatre Restaurant at Covent Garden.
We’d booked the table from 5 o’clock and with show time at 6.30 I thought we’d have ample time to get in the first couple of courses before heading to our seats. The room was buzzy with a good cross-section of your average Covent Garden crowd. The solid suburban middle class who would be hurrying for the train when the show ran late, the rich but not super-rich (they get their own rooms), tourists of various ages and origins (some unlikely couplings amongst them), and the odd normals out for a treat (like us).
Service was super friendly and super quick. Champagne was delivered almost instantaneously and swiftly followed by the starters; obviously it helped that they were both cold. Crab was dressed in its own shell. One was tempted to ask them to wash it out and let us take it home it was so decorous but then again no one wants a jacket stinking of crab. I had a sea bass ceviche which delivered on the heat and tang. A good start.
Next up was red wine. Now I’d ordered a wine from Oregon simply on the basis that I didn’t know that wine was even made in Oregon. This one was a pale red, almost towards the rosé end of the spectrum (although rosé – good rosé – as I once learnt in Quag’s, has an enormous variety of thing going on), and very refreshing. So not exactly perfect to go with the steaks that we’d ordered but in and of itself a dose of pure joy.
The steaks, frankly, took an age being delivered about half an hour before kick off. And as the waiter began to unload sides of salad, chips, kale and celeriac I realised that I’d over-ordered on a vast scale. Although I tried to relax about facing this kind of stuffing with the bell imminent I found it hard to forget that we were against the clock. But the steak was perfectly cooked and sides all good so I’ve no complaints about the food. But it was with a guilty conscience that I rose to go to the auditorium leaving acres of uneaten veg behind me.
I’d seen Les Contes d’Hoffmann at ENO a few years ago in a spectrally sinister modern production (as I remember it, any memory of opera that I have is filtered through a fair amount of booze) but this one was a straight meat and potatoes, feel the quality of these sets and cossies style thing. Which I was quite happy to roll along with. Of course it helps when all of the singers are outstanding and although no expert I can confidently predict that I’m unlikely to see a better acting-singing tenor than Vittorio Grigolò in my lifetime. He was good.
At the first interval we had autumn fruit and a Beaumes de Venise. Now, dear reader, when you order autumn fruits what do you expect? I’m thinking berries, apples and pears with possibly grapes at a stretch though by November that would be very late. Well, the ROH has other ideas. Autumn in the UK is pineapple, mango and pomegranate. Slight category error there though all tasty. And I wish I’d gottle a bottle of Beaume because one glass wasn’t enough.
Back to Offenbach for Act 2, which came in at a brisk 30 minutes. Poor old Hoffmann gets blown out yet again and it’s back on the sauce for him. As it was for us with cheese, good generous lumps of it in four varieties with a bit of the red held back to wrap it up. I have to admit that the final act of an opera is often a bridge too far for me but not this time, I was eager for more.
So would I recommend the opera? Undoubtedly. Would I recommend the restaurant? Yes, but not unreservedly. It’s great to have your own space to retire to between acts although you do miss out on the people watching to be had if you’re perching with a glass in the Floral Hall. The food is very good for a mass catering experience and the lateness of our steaks may have just been a glitch. It’s not a cheap night out but why should it be when you’re seeing a collection of the best singers of their generation in one of the finest theatres in the world?
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Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).