the UK Dining Guide

Sarastro - Covent Garden WC2

O Isis und Osiris! - Michael Hepworth enjoys a night at the opera

Pictured right: Crisis of indentity: we thought the man on the cover of the menu looked more like Fagin than Sarastro!

I keep reading elsewhere that people dining out regularly are looking increasingly at restaurants that not only offer good food, but also that have a real buzz about them, and preferably with some kind of theme. Sarastro in Covent Garden fits the bill, and since it is close to the Royal Opera House, opera lovers who like a slap up feast before or after the show have a place where they can instantly feel at home. At present, of course, the Royal Opera is undergoing a complete rebuild, but the shows go on at other theatres in the vicinity.

Sarastro is not absolutely new - it opened over a year ago. Judging by the crowd there on a recent Thursday night visit for Dine Online, many of you know about it already. It serves very acceptable Mediterranean fare with a Turkish Cypriot slant, and although the food is unlikely to win any Michelin stars in the near future, it does offer a genuine fun night out at prices to please even the stingiest of food lovers.

Seating 120 and open from 12 noon to 12 midnight it contrives a stunning operatic setting with seven specially designed boxes where diners can look down on the throngs gorging themselves on the starters of the set dinner which is realistically priced at only 17.50 per head. You get plenty of pita bread, hummus, spinach with yoghurt, taramasalata, beans a la turque, dolmades, cheese borek, garlic mushrooms and felafel. All this is brought to your table by a young and well trained young staff excited about living and working in London. At the same time the music of Bizet, Mozart (and others whose names I have already forgotten) resounds until it all blends into the same hypnotic sound as the wine continues to flow. It really makes a refreshing change from the bazooki music one used to get on a Saturday night out at the local Cypriot restaurants in Essex that always seemed to be run by a bloke called Costas or was it Stellio?

I liked all the starters except the cheese boreks which tasted a bit too bland compared to the excellent baby garlic mushrooms and the always tasty dolmades. Next up for me came the Lamb Anatolian style £10.00, while my two companions who had eaten here before several times played it conservative and went for the Chicken Princess £8.50, and Vegetarian Pancake £6.50. In fact the lamb which is served on the bone with lemon celery and courgettes is probably the one of the more exotic main courses on the special menu which also features standards such as Roast Duck with orange sauce, £10.00. Although not quite as delicious as Lamb Kleftiko, it was more than adequate with the lamb easily sliding off the bone aand melting in the mouth. The vegetarian pancake turned out to be fresh veggies baked in a cheese sauce gratin, and the chicken princess was served with the freshest of asparagus in a red wine sauce.

The wine list consists of 38 wines and champagnes from the house wine at £9.50 up to £34.00 for the 1994 Puligny Montrachet from Charles Vienot. We decided to try the Turkish house red wine, Yakut Kavaklidere. Turkish wine usually comes across as too heavy and oxidized and very alcoholic, but this wine was pretty soft on the palate and seemed to suit both the food and the vibrant atmosphere at Sarastro.

A huge fruit bowl and an extensive choice of cheeses seemed very tempting, but by that time we had all reached our health limit, so we had room only for a few small cakes, pastries and baklava. The cheese oir dessert selection is also great value at £3.50.

Sarastro is great fun and good value, the cost could range from £25.00 per person upwards, depending on just how much food (and drink) you were capable of putting away. The restaurant also hosts live opera performances from time to time, and reservations are advised as the place does get packed most nights.

Sarastro, 126 Drury Lane, London WC2 3QG.
Nearest Tube: Covent Garden
Telephone: 020 7836-0101 Fax: 020 7379-4666

Reader comment:
As a couple of Americans who rent a flat in Covent Garden every year for a week or two and spend all our time doing theatre and eating, Sarastro is a real find.  Your review is right on, not extraordinary food, but good and a little unusual, and the setting makes us feel we're backstage in a prop room of the opera house.  What fun; can't wait to take our guests there after re-seeing Miss Saigon this May.  Also quiet enough for talking, unlike most of the new places, but lively enough for a very fun evening.  We always do late night after the theatre and the staff couldn't be nicer, when at some places they become tired and grouchy.   Patrick from Florida.

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