Sunday, September 21, 2014

FOOD, FUN & FROLIC AT OPIUM

Like the heady drug it's named after, Opium is the latest venture under Werner Kuhn's F&B group that has taken the KL scene by storm. The al fresco patio crowded with mainly corporate types look innocent enough until you step into its retro-inspired, Chinois-accentuated confines that mimic a dimly lit, bodacious den with a warren of semi-hidden pavilions, private rooms and cosy nooks. Whether it's food, fun or frolics, Opium is conceived to feed those addictions with a large dose of chutzpah thrown in.
Lifting our spirits up from the get-go is Peking Man (RM32), an imaginative concoction of vodka with Pu Er tea, longans, lime juice, egg white and orange bitters. Slightly foamy at first sip, the alcoholic punch soon kicks in after the quirky sweet, sour and faintly bitter accents. Best not to chug everything at once unless you're looking to make happy hours far happier than usual.
From the Twisted Classics repertoire comes Concubine's Batida (RM28), another potent blend of cachaca (a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice), lime juice, fresh pineapple and sugar. We love the inventive presentation too; a far cry from the ho-hum cocktail glasses and normal dish of peanuts.
Front to back: Lamb patties, ikan bilis fritters and salt&chilli squid
As and when hunger pangs strike, fear not. Depending on your mood or appetite, the ambitious menu is expansive enough to cover all bases; from all day & night snacks and tummy warmers to noodles and mains. Our selection of Lamb Patties (RM18), Ikan Bilis Fritters (RM12) and Salt & Chilli Squid (RM15) turn out good in some parts, not so in others.

Lightly smothered in melted cheese, the savoury and faintly gamey lamb patties are the most agreeable. Slightly floury in texture with the wrong type of anchovies used, the fried anchovy fritters  fall short of expectations. The squid at least is nicely springy despite being unevenly salted. The marketing team duly noted our feedback and promised remedial action.
 
Two gems that hit the spot are the Lemongrass Sticks (RM12) and Chicken&Beef Satay (RM18, 1/2 dozen). Sheathed in a skein of fu chuk (beancurd skin) and enrobed around lemongrass stalks, the skewers of deep-fried minced chicken and squid are incredibly addictive especially when dipped into the house robust chilli sauce. The deep-seated marinade helps to score some extra points for the satay too.
You may blanch at forking out a handsome sum for the Opium Wantan Noodles (RM28) but it's a 'pimped up' version that won't be found at any hawker, kopitiam or resto in town. Buried under a pile of crispy deep-fried spinach and oyster mushroom, the toothsome, ultra-fine noodles lightly tossed in soya sauce and some sauteed minced chicken is a surprisingly 'star' dish that draws rave reviews.
Coming in a close second is Crispy Duck Noodles (RM28), an ambrosial offering comprising crunchy deep-fried noodles in viscous egg sauce with chopped duck meat and spring onion. Several slices of smoked duck breast lend the naughty noodles additional pizzazz.
The Curry Spaghettini (RM28) is scrumptious too save for the undercooked brinjal. Otherwise, the piquant spiciness and creamy coconut-rich gravy make this highly recommended.
Another dish that rocks is Fern Leaf Salad with Grilled Prawns (RM24); a tempting local salad which has wild local fern tips (pucuk paku) dressed in a tantalising sambal sauce scented and flavoured with ginger flower, coconut, shallot and lime juice. With succulent grilled prawns ramping up its appeal, this is a surefire winner in our book.
Equally notable are Grilled Chicken Wings (RM15), a favourite snack with drinkers but the ones here really soar high after being spiked with chilli, lemongrass and assorted spices. They taste similar to Buffalo wings albeit with well-balanced, Asian-centric flavours. 
If you enjoy souping up, you'd lap up the Peppery Lamb Soup (RM18). Simple and comforting, the spice-scented broth has cubed lamb, carrot and potato with a sprinkling of coriander and fried shallot to boot.
More adventurous diners may wish to foray into the IndoChinese realm through the Stewed Chin Baung Chicken (RM35); braised chicken that credits its appetite-whetting allure to a type of fresh herb known as kenaf leaves from Myanmar. A discernible lush lemony tang prevails, making it distinctly outstanding.
Closer to home is Wagyu Rendang (RM38), a delectable serving of robustly spiced, tender Wagyu beef. Turmeric and kaffir lime leaves in the timeless rendang dish evoke a truly festive feeling; it's as if we're celebrating Hari Raya all over again.
The spice trail leads further to some scrumptiously Creamy Butter Prawns (RM42). Instead of dry and gritty flecked or wispy egg battered crustaceans, the prawns are enrobed in a wickedly rich coating of milk, butter, chilli, garlic and curry leaves. They hit all the right notes and are best enjoyed with some poppy seed rice or lotus leaf buns.
The good vibes continue with a nod to Cod in Curry Sauce (RM38). You'd think the fish would be too oily for such creamy treatment but the chef has gone light and easy on both spice and coconut cream quotients so the inherent fish sweetness is aptly safeguarded. Definitely a winner this.
 
Meat lovers would find ample satisfaction in the hearty options of Beef Brisket & Tendon Stew (RM35) and Braised 5-Spice Duck (RM35). The former is another classic comforting crowd-pleaser with melt-in-the-mouth tender brisket and tendon stewed in soya and oyster sauces, star anise, cinnamon and king oyster mushroom. Some dried chillies are included to inject the combo with bursts of zesty heat.
 
Duck fans would go quackers over the latter; super-tender breast meat redolent with the muted sweetness of five spice, white radish and cranberry jus. The gravy is really the high point when it's drizzled over the poppy seed-studded rice.
 
The Sweet Stuff showcases Cheesy Banana Fritters (RM18) which will have you going bananas over them. Flecked with grated aged cheddar and banana ice cream, it's a sublime combo of hot and cold, sweet and salty on a plate...yums!
 
You can also chill out with (pix below, left-right): Opium Ice Glass Special (RM18), Sago Gula Melaka (RM15) and Melon Ice (RM15) for more sugary high.
Opium's version of ais batu campur (ABC) in a glass consists of shaved ice, grass jelly, waterchestnuts, basil seeds, peanuts, corn, mung bean paste, coconut milk, melted gula melaka (palm sugar syrup) and coconut ice cream. A superb blend of textural contrasts and delightful sweetness that brooks no competition or dietary willpower.

Strips of jackfruit add a nice dimension to the perennial trinity of sago pearls, coconut milk and gula melaka while more sago pearls and coconut milk upped the interest factor in the Melon Ice. Trust me, everyone is bound to raise a glass or two or three anytime to these irresistible dessert.


OPIUM, 50, Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-2142 5670

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