Opium dens were prevalent in many parts of the world in the 19th century, but stepping away from the late 19th century and into December 2012 we can associate an ‘Opium Den’ with a lot less Morphine and a lot more delectable oriental-inspired liquid creations designed to provide a unique sensory experience once you step through the jade door at the Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour.
Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour is the newest kid on the Gerrard St block, nestled appropriately amongst the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, and the sights and smells that make this little part of London one of the most vibrant.
Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour features nooks and crannies spread over three floors, with all spaces lending themselves to a different feel – relaxed lounge style seating, an intimate boudoir drinking den for a close crowd, and open plan bars to spread out and escape the intensity of central London, each one providing a feast of flexible drinking and dining experiences.
When I got the opportunity to step into this lush hub of oriental eclecticism last week, I was taken aback by the vast contrast of standing on Gerrard St, then stepping into the dimly-lit, cavernous surrounds of Opium – it provided some respite from the noise outside, and offered the soft mumblings of friendly chatter inside.
I was positioned at the bartenders’ table, where you can watch the masters at work, mixing up luxurious cocktails. It is really a bit magical – wielding apothecary-style bottles instead of wands, and serving up mysterious potions to satisfy even the most hardened cocktail connoisseur.
Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour’s mixologist Dre Masso is the brains behind the stellar line-up of unique cocktails on offer at Opium, and going one step further, he has orchestrated a Cocktail and Dim Sum Pairing- matching his signature drinks to the selection of dim sum and roast meats that make up Opium’s fare.
Through a hint of science and a healthy amount of intuition, each pairing creates a taste sensation greater than the sum of its parts.
I tried a couple of cocktails whilst I was there – the house special, Opium Cocktail No 1, which contains two types of rum, absinthe, mandarin juice, lime juice, kaffir lime juice, kaffir lime syrup, citrus bitters and a ginseng capsule.
It is served bubbling in an interesting drinking apparatus – the perfect blend of theatre, alcohol and perfectly balanced flavours. A must have for the first visit but note the limit of two per person. Something about being told that made me want to have three.
Now enter Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour’s Kung Fu Fiz (pictured above), a dinky china cup packed full of flavour that you are convinced will not work, but it does. It works. It works very well. Champagne, parsnip puree, honey and malt vinegar, served straight up. The parsnip drew me in, and the sweet honey kept me there.
The Scallop, coriander and pea dumplings, pork and prawn dumplings and a couple of cheeky Chinese egg tarts topped off the Opium experience, and puts a much more appealing spin on the trusty ‘dinner and drinks’ combo. Give me opulent Opium Den chic any day.
Address: Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour, 15-16 Gerrard Street, W1
If you like cocktails, read our guide to London’s best cocktail bars.