Opium, Chinatown

  • DATE #185
  • Written by Emily Rees-Jones (Guest Author)
  • 5 years ago
Opium Cocktail Den

The Vibe

In the nineteenth Century Chinatown was beloved by louche characters seeking the kind of insalubrious oblivion proffered by its many opium dens. Gerrard Street’s latest cocktail haunt offers a playful nod towards the dens of inequity of old, yet is thoroughly updated for the modern pleasure seeker. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde describes an opium den as somewhere where the “memory of old sins could be destroyed by the madness of sins that were new”. Here at Opium this promise is taken very seriously and while you may not get your smoke on, boy can you get your drink on.

A few doors down from The Experimental Cocktail club you’ll find the unobtrusive jade door guarded by a BFG of a bouncer. Ascend the winding incense perfumed staircase and you’re in another world, if your hipster flat mate shacked up with a Geisha, this would be the result. Chinese vases jostle with retro bric and brac, a combination that works surprisingly well under the amber ambient lighting. Opium sprawls over three levels, each with an open plan bar where you can marvel at the bartender’s artistry or head into one of the many nooks and crannies and hunker down into a richly upholstered armchair.

The Order

The cocktails are perfectly primed to ward off that perennial scourge of the first date, the dreaded awkward silence. There’s no need to struggle for polite chitchat when the drinks are pure theatre, as much about showmanship as taste. The Opium cocktail No 1 billows with dry ice and is accompanied by a tiny bottle of ginseng, famous for its aphrodisiac properties. The Way of the Dragon is a heady concoction of Four Roses bourbon, black tea syrup and vermouth. If a novelty smoking beaker isn’t your schtick then don’t be afraid to go off piste, the bartenders really know their stuff and are happy to concoct something unique. Name your spirit and they’ll happily transform it with an oriental twist, mandarin juice, kumquat syrup and kaffir leaves feature heavily. The pared down menu belies the complexity of the dumplings themselves, samphire and crab, and truffled mushroom are the stars of the show.

The Game

As Opium isn’t numbered and could be tricky to find, arrange to meet your date under Chinatown’s Central Arch. Take their hand and lead them confidently through the throngs of tourists, smile knowingly at the BFG and guide them through the incense smog straight up to the Academy on the top floor. Take your time over the cocktails, share some dim sum, head down to the Apothecary bar and snuggle into one of the comfortably kitsch booths. If conversation isn’t flowing you can always resort to blowing bubbles, literally, as each table is adorned with bubble bottles and firecrackers. Appetites whetted by some exemplary dim sum stumble back out into Chinatown. If you’re heading home, share a cab but don’t, I beg of you take a rickshaw. It’s tacky and these days you’re just going to get cold.

The Faults

The dumplings are delicious but not enough to soak up the booze. Not to worry though, you could always duck into Leong’s Legends for a late night Sichuan snack.

Sex Factor


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