I came across Opium (previously Werner’s on Changkat) like many others through a deal site. No, I have not been to el cerdo or Dining in the Dark (who has the same owner, Chef Werner Kuhn) so I’m not familiar with these restaurants nor know what to expect. LC however has been to el cerdo and sings praises about their pork, pork and pork so there was a benchmark set for Opium.
We did glance through their menu provided on Groupon before purchasing the deal so the Wagyu Rendang was a definite for the night.
I was a bit adventurous and decided on the Braised 5 Spice Duck. Both dishes are served with either a poppy seed rice or lotus leaf buns and a small side salad.
For starters, we ordered the Mango Salad with Softshell Crab and Salt and Chilli Squid.
On the drink menu, I picked a Mango Assam Boi while LC went for the Calamansi Apple Ginger (bold choice). I’ve been told that the Sunrise Cooler was a staple back in Werner’s.
Opium’s decor is a mix of exotic and mysterious Chinese with old china, glass stained windows, brass door knocks, seductive posters, oil lamps, antique decor and wood fixings. It is easy to imagine ladies clad in cheongsams and men in Chinese robes socializing along with wisps of smoke floating through the air so the interior of Opium has me thoroughly impressed.
The drinks arrived first in adorable pots that looked like a crossbreed of a flower pot and a mortar. The drinks were very good. LC’s Calamansi Apple Ginger was fresh with the slightest tang of ginger. Recommendable even if you don’t like ginger (like me). My sweet and sour Mango Assam Boi has bits of mango and assam in every sip. Also very well balanced and refreshing. Later on, LC ordered the Sunrise Cooler which was very nice too.
The appetizers arrived together. The softshell crab – a bit oily and salty to my liking. The mango salad was nice with the crunch of the anchovies. The chilli and salt squid was a hit and miss for me. Some pieces of the squid were too salty, some were just right. It had light hints of szechuan peppercorns which I usually don’t like but it went well with the squid.
The pacing between courses was just right and the waiters were always in sight and attentive so our main courses arrived a few moments after our starters were whisked away. LC was not impressed by the taste of the rendang on its own but with the mantou, it was good. The texture of the wagyu was not as tender and melt in your mouth as I expected but LC was quick to remind me that even wagyu comes in different grades. Even so, I was quite disappointed as I’ve had more fragrant rendang and the dish as a whole was just okay.
The presentation of the brass pot sitting on a tea candle is purely for presentation purposes only. I lifted the pot in which my braised duck sat in and touched the bottom, it was just warm. The candle was too far from the pot for it to even warm my pot, what more my food. I tested the side salad first and foremost and it tasted strange. A mixture of raw cabbage, carrot with hints of sweet, sour and the fragrance of coriander was lost to me. If the dish was served with acar, I would have been more receptive.
My first slice of duck was tough. So was the second, third and forth right up till the last piece. The thick, sweet cranberry juice and five spiced sauce with cubes of radish and mushroom which accompanied the duck left me a little puzzled as they didn’t go well with each other. Perhaps it’s a style of duck I’m not familiar with. But the tough duck irked me the most as I struggled piece after piece. LC tried a slice and gave up after he too failed to bite through the tough meat.
We’re not sure if the pink middles of the duck breast (apologies for the awful photo but I’m trying to prove a point) was the cause of the toughness but braising should have produced more tender duck. Also, the sauce failed to cover the gamey-ness of the meat. Overall, I was quite annoyed and was really looking forward to dessert.
LC ordered a Sago Gula Melaka while I ordered a Melon Ice. The gula melaka was thick and fragrant – very nice with the slivers of nangka and clumps of sago. My melon ice had vanilla ice cream, pureed honeydew melon, more sago and cubes of honeydew melon. I thought the honeydew puree was very smart as the honeydew taste distributed well in the glass. LC was more impressed by his dessert though, I agreed.
Overall, the meal was memorable for the wrong reasons and for the price paid, I expected better quality food. If I were to come back, the only reason would be the drinks and the atmosphere but for me, drinks + atmosphere does not justify as a purposeful trip down to Changkat.
With the bill came 2 pieces of traditional sweets – cubes of flour and sugar, very traditional Chinese which perhaps only my parents and grandparents would appreciate. A nice, nostalgic touch to end the otherwise not-so-nice dinner.
I took the time to look at some opium pipes and tea pots being displayed outside the kitchen while I waited for LC and I was approached by Sascha. Willing to impart on his knowledge of opium pipes (which he sheepishly admitted he’d read up only weeks before), I was given a brief history on how the opium pipes worked before LC reappeared. We then talked about the restaurant, the food and future plans for Opium.
The story of the name Opium surfaced as deliberately ‘offensive’ as the parents of this GM/PR manager had a restaurant in Thailand called Phuk-It (‘Ph’ is pronounced commonly as an ‘F’ in Thailand, go figures) and they wanted the same memorable effect for Opium. On our grievances, he promised that the next time we visit, “we will say wow to the food”. I can only hope that he’s not too offended by our comments (we were brutally honest) and Sascha, we wish you all the best and perhaps after this initial teething period, we may come back.