One of the great things about eating at the Amphitheatre restaurant is its location: sitting proud within the confines of the Royal Opera House, you get to marvel a bit on the way to your table. Before any of this happens, you get your bag searched as you check in (no-one searched us on the way out, so smuggling the odd bread roll out in your handbag is a possibility). On your way up to the restaurant, the ascent takes you past the Paul Hamlyn Hall Bar, which incorporates the Perrier-Jouët Champagne Bar, and looks stunning - just the place to meet for drinks.
We settled in at our table on a Saturday afternoon, joining the pre-matinee crowd for lunch. As the Amphitheatre caters predominantly for opera-goers, the menu is short and to the point, but still manages not to compromise on choice with a varied handful of dishes. The a la carte offered the likes of spicy tomato soup, smoked salmon and venison terrine in the way of starters and a similarly mixed bag with its main dishes. With a set menu to choose from and the a la carte, we decided to be difficult and see if we could mix and match. Luckily there was no problem with this as the waiter nodded his head in agreement and went off without so much as a grimace or any sucking of breath.
He returned in a similarly friendly manner with our starters of babaganoush and ham hock terrine. Babaganoush for anyone scratching their head at this point, is an aubergine dip of sorts, and was served up with capers to lend the savoury, light dip a salty edge. It was scooped up and finished almost as quickly as it arrived on the table with large strips of flatbread. The ham hock was good – coarse, textured and just the right size to whet your appetite.
Our main dishes of duck breast and vegetable parpadelle turned up in express fashion, but more by token of efficiency than an attempt to move us along. The kitchen have a relatively short time period to serve up lunch and dinner to most of their guests, due to pending opera slots, so speed is something they’re used to here and it shows in an accomplished rather than hurried approach. The duck was good with its accompanying red cabbage and juniper berries adding some contrasting crunch. But it was the parpadelle that prevailed and had my dining partner making a mental note to visit the local deli in an attempt to re-create the dish at home. Courgettes, carrots, asparagus and rocket entwined themselves around the pasta, with the odd pea snuck in amongst the lot. Served with a light, creamy sauce it was a real lunchtime meal – full of flavour without the threat of promting a post-lunch slump.
It’s worth noting that if you are visiting the Royal Opera House for its foremost offering, the menu is pretty flexible when it comes to opera performances. You can arrive before a performance, leisurely eat your way through your starter and main course, and then return during the interval to round things off with pudding. If you’re coming along purely for lunch then you’ll have to force yourself to eat all three courses in one sitting. Life can be tough.
Portions at the Amphitheatre are very average in size and provide relief in that you can still get up from the table comfortably afterwards. Our puddings of chocolate pavé with raspberries and sherry triffle with ginger, put a sweet seal on the end of our meal, and we headed down to ground level, eyeing up the bar on our descent and realising that we still had room for a drink.
(Please note that non-ticket holders can dine for lunch at the Amphitheatre restaurant from Monday to Saturday. The restaurant is open only to ticket holders during the evening.)
Amphitheatre: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD.
Tel: 020 7304 4000.
Reviewer: Helenka Bednar