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Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour

Of course I’m writing this from the circle line. You always know you’ve got plenty of time when you board the circle line. Never one to waste it; I’ll spend mine thinking back to the salivating cocktails laden with dry ice and medicinal mixers @OpiumChinatown.

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Last Thursday, I was invited by the management at the newly opened Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour in the heart of London’s Chinatown to experience something a little different. The brainchild of bar-operator Eric Yu (The Breakfast Group) and world-renowned mixologist Dre Masso opened in late November 2012.

MASSO

Dre Masso

I can’t pretend to be an expert on too many subjects and Opium, not unsurprisingly, isn’t one of them. What I do know comes from a scratchy black and white 1980s video shown on fictional American comedy Dodge Ball. According to that, I could expect my evening to comprise of extreme violence and soaring Chinese heads. Thankfully, they’ve come a long way since the Opium dens of the late 19th Century.

Unlike the film, what actually greeted me was an extensive cocktail menu amongst many cosy dim-lit spaces. Menus scripted onto the walls and photos of the owner’s family lined the walls; giving it an authentic touch –and ensuring that the booming Chinese voice in the bathroom was the only indication that might have you thinking you’d had a touch of Opium.

I understand the purpose of the foreboding looking bouncer guarding ‘the jade door’ now. On arrival at the venue I was met with a “do you have a reservation?” and then an acknowledgement that I was probably one of those girl’s who’d get herself lost in a myriad of absinthe laced rooms. Instructions swiftly followed. “There are quite a few rooms, he said. Make your way to the very top, top….to the top”, he repeated several times. I gave strict instructions back on the appearance of my guest (en route and clueless as to the venue…also likely to get lost in absinthe laced rooms).

To be clear, opium is that unmarked door (aside from the giant clipboarded man out the front) that resides at ‘The jade door’, 15-16 Gerrard Street, Chinatown W1D 6JE.

I was eventually on my way – to the top top.

Appearing to be quite small from the outside, inside, it’s surprisingly easy to get yourself lost. (Hence the instructions). Spread over three floors of oriental eclecticism, Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour offers up nine distinct rooms within an historical townhouse, set amongst one of London’s most characterful neighbourhoods. If the light is on, step through into an eclectic mix of flexible drinking and dining spaces: lounge seating, for grazing and sharing; intimate boudoir-drinking-dens and open-plan bars. This Opium is a den for more salubrious pursuits: fine dining and drinking. A Chinese (cocktail) apothecary and the amazing bartenders table offer a variety of options, whatever the size or mood of your party.

Once I made it up the stairs I was in dire need of a pick me up, luckily it arrived soon after in the form of a tiny medicine bottle filled with dry ice and another with that little green fairy; absinthe. The waitress smiled, placed it on the table and I sat looking at the bubbling over dry ice for a while before the people at the table next to me offered up some advice – “oohhh, you’ve gone for the house speciality. That one’s great, just don’t have more than two”.

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Naturally, as soon as I heard that, I ordered four (eventually causing my succinct Friday morning suffrage on the circle line). Usually worth it for an amazing cocktail.

The cocktails at the den are crafted around the seasonal ingredients and chi-enhancing herbs of the Orient and are partnered with luxurious takes on the humble dim sum (poppy seed toast with lobster, crab & samphire or mushroom & truffle dumplings to name a few).

The centre-piece of the second floor is the Chinese Apothecary bar where ‘mysterious’ liquids are identified by a coding system of Chinese characters. Opium spirals upward, through a carriage-saloon reminiscent of the Orient Express, into the attic Academy; where cocktail connoisseurs can watch Dre and his team work their magic at the ‘bartenders table’.

Extensively travelled, Masso is always collecting liquid inspirations and on his first visit to China, over 10 years ago, the idea for Opium began to take shape. The concise cocktail menu based on premium spirits will evolve seasonally with the ingredients discovered locally – in Chinatown. And, adding to the apothecary feel of the main bar, you’ll even discover a chi-enhancing herb or two amongst the classics.

Yu and Masso were keen to embrace the rituals at the heart of Chinese drinking. Each cocktail will be served with its own touch of theatre, the whole ethos of Opium is that amazing food and cocktails go hand-in-hand. Everything from the ingredients they use to the open-kitchen style of the bars is all designed to excite the palette.

Not knowing what to leave off our order, Juliet and I instead opted for a little bite of almost everything the menu had to offer. Changing seasonally, in parallel with the drinks list, the menu will also include guest chef collaborations. In November, St John created Legend of St John – a take on Siu long bao which marries Shanghai street-food and Michelin-star dining.

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Make sure you try most things on the menu, the food is really something to embrace; from lobster dumplings with XO dipping sauce with the zing of horseradish balanced by the richness of Cognac. The ‘humble’ dim sum has been updated and enriched with the finest sea food such as Razor clams, Scallops and Langoustines. The likes of Poppy seed lobster toast and Crab & samphire dumplings are a modern (Opium) take on the authentic dishes which Yu grew up with.

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From cocktails to food to ambiance; the design, by award-winning collective Office Sian & Kai Design, continues the Oriental eclecticism that defines Opium. The ornately-carved furniture, tones of rich red and porcelain blue, opulent prints and traditional art that you’d expect are given a contemporary London feel: metallic finishes, tinted glass and mirrors playing with the perspective. Michaela Reysenn, creator of the interior design adds: ‘Opium mashes together rough and luxurious textures, antique and modern furniture, poppy fields and industrial fittings. Guests will feel immersed in a rich and tactile environment. We have re-created the mood of the original Opium dens; cloaking diners in deep shadows and amber lighting and creating secluded boudoir areas.’

Next stop? Chinese New Year, year of the snake….see you there!

Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour is open 5pm – midnight, Monday – Friday & 6pm – midnight on Saturdays (Sunday opening launches 10th Feb). Tel 0207 734 7276.

www.opiumchinatown.com
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