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Friday, 21 December 2012

Opium, Chinatown

Eric Yu (Punk, The Social, Salvador and Amanda) and drinks industry guru Dr├ę Masso's joint new cocktail joint/ dim sum parlour, Opium, invites comparison with that other talked-up late-night Chinatown noodle,The Experimental Cocktail Club. Both bars inhabit the upper floors of creaky old townhouses, their unmarked doors designed to foil all but those in the loop. Although it's possible to simply rock up at either, advance reservations are a better bet; while another trait shared by both bars, is pricing as steep as the staircases that lead to them - an ascent perfumed by joss sticks as cloying as YSL's Opium at Opium. The rarified cocktails at ECC are arguably worth their 'ouch!' cost but my date, a bar world bigwig, is agog at Opium's ambitiously priced menu.  My first choice, gin and blood orange cooler Laughing Buddha, is a fine sundowner, and attractively garnished too; even if with Bombay Sapphire sold at £21 a litre at the end of my street as its base, Buddha should be laughing all the way to the bank. My date is not so lucky with Kung Fu Whizz. Served in a prosaic Chinese teacup, he's not keen on its mix of flat-ish Champagne, parsnip puree, black malt vinegar and honey, claiming it has all the appeal of the old Chinese Commie Party Chairman's Maoth-rinse. I try it. Bleurgh! The last time I tasted anything this peculiar, didn't I come round, dazed, in a Bucharest gutter, minus both my kidneys? For this liquid experiment, dispensed from Opium's apothecary, a Hong Kong Heston-style lab complete with chef/ mixologist's table, you'll pay around £15 - amateurish service from a sweet French chap who mightn't cut la moutarde chez ECC - included. While ECC favours Rive Gauche boho chic, the decor in the section of the sprawling pile we are shown to suggests a 1930s drug-fug knocking shop crossed with the waiting room of the Kowloon clap clinic you'd subsequently need to attend. That's not necessarily an unflattering comparison; you'll meet all sorts of lovely, interesting people (albeit possibly, temporarily, off-limits if you're in the mood for romance) at your local STD lounge. As for Opium's lounges,  I rather like this funky Shanghai shonkytonk's various quaint charms - viz its surreal loo experience (and, no; I'm not telling). Steaming, plump, reasonably priced at around £7 for four, dim sum presently appear - delivered, according to Frenchy (and sundry media), via dumb waiter from Dumplings Legend directly below. Ho Lee Fook! Would that be Dumplings Legend as featured in yesterday's Evening Standard? I'll draw a veil over the reported matter, but if you're squeamish, best not visit http://tinyurl.com/d2nmogv . All I can usefully add is, whatever our dim sum's provenance, they were tasty enough and my guts suffered absolutely no ill-effects: the only slight sickener, the bill. Drinks industry legend date got landed with that one, poor dumpling. Some are raving about the place; others point to another of Masso's cocktails, The Emperor's New Clothes. Put on your cheongsam and decide for yourself, me old China.
15 Gerrard Street W1 7734 7276 http://opiumchinatown.com/