26 Wexford Street
Phone: 01 526 7711
Opium is essentially a big and rather cool pub (with impressive cocktails) that manages to pull off what is essentially a pan-Asian menu with considerable panache.
Remember when the Irish pub served Guinness and Smithwick’s, a couple of whiskeys, CDC gin, A Winter’s Tale and, in very sophisticated places, both brandy and Tayto crisps? Although not often at the same time. There may have been scattered outbreaks of Babycham in the more worldly parts of Dublin.
That kind of Irish pub belongs to a time when both women and men habitually wore hats, holidays were taken in Ballybunion or Courtown and children were left outside licensed premises in the car with a “mineral”.
Not enough pubs have changed in the meantime, and that’s the main reason why they are dying out. Opium, which is more than just a pub, of course, is the future, or certainly one rather compelling version of it. It’s a one-stop-shop, if you like, for an evening out. You can have your aperitif there, if that floats your boat, or pre-dinner drinks as some might say. Or you can choose from a great range of cocktails, classic or creative. Opium is a cocktail bar, restaurant and club.
But the key thing for me, is the food. Opium is a very good place to eat. And, yes, of course I was sceptical. A menu that can be loosely described as pan-Asian is always a cause for concern (on the jack of all trades and master of none basis) but the kitchen at Opium is firing on all twelve cylinders under South African chef, Philip Hughes who used to be at Diep Le Shaker.
I’m astonished at how good Opium is at so doing so much. Let’s take some eclectic examples. Gyoza, those Japanese dumplings (well, originally Chinese, just to be pedantic about it), the ones which are, if you like, steamed on top and somewhat fried on the base, are amongst the very, very best I’ve ever tasted. And I don’t say that lightly. I ordered a second batch and was tempted by a third.
Short ribs, which could be just a variation on a tired old cliché, are meaty and encased in a kind of sticky varnish of a most deliciously savoury kind, a far cry from the usual spare ribs rubbish that infest so many menus, and quite simply ace.
A true test of the kitchen is making shaking beef or thit bo luc lac as it’s known back home in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese cooking is all about delicacy and impeccable balance of flavours. It’s distinctive, to say the least.
Well, the kitchen at Opium acquits itself with credit to spare. This stir-fry of tender fillet beef has deep savoury notes perked up with the tang of lime. It’s remarkably good and, as far as I’m concerned, as authentic as I’ve had.
In a further eclectic swoop, a dish of pad thai, that zingy celebration of noodles, is as good as the best I’ve had: every element working together, clearly constructed by people who know what they are doing.
These are just a few examples of how something that could go so wrong has gone so impressively right. Anyone who knows Dublin restaurants will be aware of lacklustre stabs at Asian themes; Opium is the one that does it not just properly, but with bravado and panache.