It’s been a while since me and my other half ventured out for dinner. So we were pretty excited to venture back out into the world of those strange beings, ‘other people’, and treat ourselves to something tasty.
Opium has been on the cards for a long time. We booked to go way back in January, but became too ill and had to cancel. Since then time has flown by, until last night, when we finally made it there.
It’s hidden behind the jade door on Gerrard Street in China Town, between to very loud Chinese restaurants. Easy to miss, apart from a small bronze sign and a very tall, serious looking bouncer manning the door.
He’s lovely though.
Now, it really is best to make a reservation. They can get very busy; they certainly were when we were there. When we told the door bloke who we were, he checked the list then invited us in out of the cold whilst he radioed up to the hostess.
Ear pieces and everything, very MI5.
After that, it was a bit of a mountain climb up 3 flights of stairs, leaving us puffing for breath at the very top – but we made it. The scent of incense was quite strong, (unsurprising given that pots of it were burning at every floor), giving the whole place quite a mystical vibe.
Once at the top, we were quickly led to our seats and given cups of water – which throughout the night were constantly refilled by the very attentive waitress. The room itself was relatively small, with lots of snug seats, wooden chairs and relatively low lighting – giving off the ambience of it’s namesake: an opium den.
One wall was made up of a giant map, which I rather liked. And various small suitcases, umbrellas and such were on shelves above us. It simply added to the old-worldy vibe, rather than the impression of sitting in a lost property office.
Our orders were taken. My other half had a caipirinha – their selection of regular cocktails is exceptional, and the liquor generously added. This makes a change to many current cocktail bars, which are unfortunately very stingy with the alcohol (and some, I suspect, water it down, or mess around with the shot measuring thingy-mabobs to ensure everyone gets slightly below the 50ml.) But not this place!
I went for one of their special Chinese styled cocktails. The list was, once again, impressive – and the cocktails all sounded wonderfully exotic. I went for ‘The Sorceror’, which came – interestingly – in what looked like a cough syrup bottle, with a label pronouncing ‘Chinese Medicine’ stuck on. The waiter poured it for me, and added a spritz of a rose scented fragrance. Very showy. It was deliciously fruity, consisting of Absolut wheat vodka, maraschino liqueur, pomegranate juice, aloe vera juice, lemon juice and rose syrup. The rose syrup gave it a slightly different taste and it was nice to enjoy something apart from the norm. The only downside was the drinks were really quite pricey, at least for our student budgets, coming in between £10.50 for the regular cocktails and up to £14.00 for the original mixes. There are several sharing cocktails (including one the table next to us had, that was served in a teapot with dry ice steam pouring out of the top. Very dramatic!) but judging by the prices, they were mainly for considerably larger groups than just us two!
We quickly ordered the dim sum, going with a variety. We went for Scallop Dumplings, Sea Bass and Fennel dumplings as well as Cantonese Barbecue Pork Buns. They arrived all together and steaming hot in wicker container type things, piled one on top of the other. This, the waiter explained, was so that the steam from the lower courses could maintain the heat and continue to steam the dumplings above them. Crafty!
We shared each of them, starting with the pork buns. And oh my, the pork buns. They were utterly delicious. The dough was light and fluffy, the pork tender and sweet. I honestly could have eaten about 5 helpings to myself. Sadly I was forced to share.
Next were the sea bass and fennel. The chunk of sea bass in each one was once again, generous. They were very flavourful; at first I was unsure whether it was to my taste or not, but by the second one I was won over.
And finally, the scallop dim sum. These were lovely. Scallops were tender and fishy and – well, everything you want from a scallop. I could have eaten a thousand of them as well. They are so morish.
Altogether the dim sum varied from about £6.00 to £11.00 (although the £11.00 dim sum was lobster, so I could understand that). To me, a little over priced considering you only got 4 pieces per portion – but they were the best dim sum I have ever had in all honesty, and they were not stingy on the feelings or over zealous with the seasoning. So I was happy enough to shell out, I just wished I could have more.
We had a lovely evening there, with friendly staff, amazing food and original cocktails. My only complaint was that it all seemed a little pricey, but I think I’ll be saving up the pennies to go back and sample some more of the menu. It was somewhere a bit different, a bit off the beaten track, and when you disappear behind an almost unmarked door – it makes you feel like you’re being let in on a secret. A feeling one does not often have in the capital, where frankly, very little is a secret.
I would recommend this place to anyone, if only for dim sum…which actually translates as ‘Touch The Heart’ – kind of romantic for something so delicious, and something perfect for sharing on a date. It’s also a nice place for visitors of London to find…definitely off the beaten tourist track, and not like anywhere else.
Just to add, please excuse the lack of photos. They didn’t really come out well!