32-34 Monmouth Street, WC2H 9HA
tel: +44 (0)20 7240 6076
Something's happened to Covent Garden. It used to be a real graveyard for food lovers. Sure, there were a few exceptions, but overall it was dominated with bland chains like TGI Fridays or awful touristy pubs claiming to have THE most authentic fish and chips in London. But recently, a spate of openings has had food bloggers buzzing. Kopapa is one of the new kids on the block getting a lot of attention. It's co-owned by Peter Gordon who's also the chef behind the excellent Providores in Marylebone. I knew two pub-quiz facts about him. 1) He's often called London's "King of Fusion" for mixing flavours and ingredients from different continents in one dish. 2) He's a Kiwi. What I didn't know is that he also has Maori roots. And this is where the name comes from - Kopapa, in Maori, means a gathering, to be crowded. Ironically, the Friday lunchtime I went, there was nary a soul to be found. But to be perfectly fair, the word is still being spread about Kopapa - and I did visit the first week of January when people are in full on New Year's resolution mode.
Kopapa serves food all day long, starting with breakfast and coffees from the excellent Monmouth Coffee Company. They also have a scrumptious-looking weekend brunch which got a very good review from fellow food blogger Greedy Diva. I have to say - it is my New Year's resolution to try the spiced banana french toast with orange blossom labne, tamarind raisin relish, grilled streaky bacon and orange vanilla syrup. HELLO. But on this particular visit, it was lunchtime. So, my two dining companions and I picked two small plates each. Grilled chorizo (£5.80) had a spicy bite and was perfectly chargrilled. A bowl of salted, steamed edamame beans (£4.80) was a nice cleansing snack between plates.
The chargrilled aubergine with tamarind caramel, coriander, pickled ginger and za'atar (a mixture of Middle Eastern spices) sounded like it would be a party in one's mouth (£4.80). Sadly it turned out to be better on paper than in reality. It was rather bland and could have used a bit more ginger for my liking.
The dish above was my favorite. So much so that after we finished, I immediately ordered another plate. I hadn't heard of cassava chips before. They look a little like parsnips, but taste sweeter. Apparently it's commonly eaten as a vegetable in parts of Africa and Asia and used the same way potatoes are in the west. These babies were served with avocado, sriracha chili sauce and creme fraiche (£3.80). They tasted miles better than fries and I fooled myself into thinking they might be healthier too. If they aren't - I don't want to know about it.
Another small plate with big flavours was the sesame infused tuna tartare with soy wasabi tapioca, crispy lotus root and shiso (£6.00). If this dish were a new boyfriend, I'd want to introduce him to my parents straight away. The flavours impressed - big time. Soy and tuna are an obvious match, but the wasabi gave it a good kick - and the shiso - which I learned is a member of the mint family added a welcoming cooling dimension.
The final plate was my choice: coconut sticky pork ribs (£6.20). Basically, you can stick coconut in anything and I'll love it. Porridge, smoothies, cupcakes, chicken - BRING ON THE COCONUT. This was no exception. The ribs were meaty and and tender. There was just a kiss of coconut flavour which made it appealing rather than overwhelming. We took a miss on dessert and opted instead for a delicious 2007 Vega from Douro, Portugal (£18.50). On the whole, Kopapa is a very welcome addition to the culinary wasteland which once was Covent Garden. The flavours are exciting, the service VERY attentive and friendly. And I look forward to checking one more New Year's resolution off my list: banana french toast, here I come.