The hidden delights of Opium
Chinatown has many alluring bars and restaurants, but look a bit harder and you will find Opium, Asia’s hidden gem in the heart of London.
Behind an unassuming door lies a den of opulence. There are three different bars, each focusing on intricate Asian flavours and specialities. The Apothecary bar has a Feng Shui-themed menu based on Chinese medicines. The cocktails are produced from medicine bottles that line the bar — and they will definitely make you feel better. The Visionary – mellow corn whisky, dry sherry, banana, ginger, curry leaves and coconut – is supposed to spark creativity, and we can see how, with the sharp ginger meeting the mellow banana and creating a fusion of soft and spicy. Or there’s the Companion — a fruitier concoction of Bols Genever, bitter liqueur, coconut, raspberry, sweet Thai basil, lemon and honey — a love story, marrying sweet and sour for the perfect drink.
The Academy bar is more lounge-like, with a bartenders table in the middle that you can sit around and watch your cocktails being made. This menu focuses on Asian cooking flavour pairings. The Yamaguchi – vodka infused with Hawaiian tea, Manzanilla wine, buttered onion, pickle juice and mushroom – is a clever mix of sweet and savoury, producing a deep and full-bodied cocktail. Don’t let the onions put you off, their subtlety opens up the drink and draws on those earthy flavours.
The Peony bar is cosy and intimate, where customers can again sit and watch cocktails being smoked, shaken and stirred. The menu is a work of art in itself — a map of China, with each cocktail named after a major city. The Guiyang looks more like a dessert, served in a basket with a spoonful of custard. But the custard complements the cocktail of baijiu, kumquat, ginger, grilled pineapple, yuzu and chestnut perfectly.
Dim sum is served in each bar, with the choice of platters, snacks or single baskets. The mushroom and truffle dumplings are our favourite, but the platters are great for sharing. The seafood platter is made up of three Har Gau (traditional Cantonese dumplings), three seabass and fennel dumplings and three scallop dumplings. The food pairs well with the cocktails, and the delicate flavours of both show how passionate the staff are about bringing a taste of Asia to London.
Each bar has its own charms and whether it’s a party or a romantic tipple, Opium has you covered. It even offers cocktail masterclasses for groups of 20, during which one of the skilled bartenders will take you through the history of the drink before tutoring you on how to make your own.