Restaurants seem to gather in clusters. Once one paves the way successfully, others follow hot on its tail -- the Haddington Road area, Upper Leeson Street and Ranelagh are all prime examples. Now the hot-to-trot Dublin city-centre place is Wexford Street, which has seen the openings this year of Las Tapas de Lola and Bunsen, and the area is attracting the around-town hipsters in droves. Opium, a new Asian restaurant and cocktail bar, is the latest hot happening on the street.
In hipster terminology, I 'rocked up' in its early days with my friend, Paul, to find all sorts of cool dudes, long-legged blondes and rock-band types sussing it out. It's located at The Village nightclub, and I really liked the warehouse-like entrance, which leads into a long, Orient-Express-like eatery, with tan leather booths and semi-circular enclaves. Moving on through, you are into a vast cocktail bar with more banquette seating, hanging light bulbs, and red, fabric-draped walls.
The gig here is casual, contemporary Thai and Vietnamese food at prices that won't frighten the horses. Starters and small plates (€7.50-€10.50) included Vietnamese rice paper rolls filled with chargrilled prawns, gari, asparagus, bean sprouts, sweet basil and Sriracha mayonnaise. Scallop and halibut ceviche features, as do gyoza, which were house-made wraps with shrimp, snow pea, pork, ginger, mushroom and smoked garlic; baby back ribs; and BBQ lamb with yoghurt chilli, honey, lime, cashew nut and coriander chutney.
On the dinner menu, mains and large plates (€15-€22) featured red curry duck; green halibut curry; beef rendang; shaking beef; crispy pork belly; pad Thai omelette; Malay laksa, and Szechuan pulled pork.
We dined from the lunch menu, with starters at €5 each, or €12 for three. Chicken satay consisted of three skewers of decent, moist chicken, which was lavishly spread with peanut sauce, and served with a nice sweet-sour pickled cucumber salad and lots of mint leaves. Green curry samosas, which promised mixed vegetables, Thai curry and cardamom yoghurt just didn't hit the mark; they were three very bland, bite-sized samosas with just a little dish of what tasted more like a commercial mayo than cardamom yoghurt.
Massaman curries, which are Muslim in origin, are a rather soft, aromatic Malaysian blend, generally containing ground cashew nuts, coconut milk, meat and potatoes. At Opium, Paul's massaman (€10) was constructed with plenty of good, tender chunks of lamb and was served topped with fried shallots and a dome of rice to the side. I had green papaya salad (€10). It was a good, zesty combination of shredded cucumber, pickled carrot, crisp shallots, and rau ram -- Vietnamese coriander -- interspersed with king prawns and roasted peanuts. We also shared a side of braised Morning Glory (€4); crisp Thai green vegetables, topped with toasted sesame seeds, oyster sauce, chilli and garlic.
Desserts, at €5.95, included coconut and passion fruit panna cotta, artisan Irish ice creams and sorbets, and triple chocolate bavarois. Trifle of pandanus sponge, with passion-fruit jelly, coconut custard and fruit appealed, but it was unavailable, so we passed on puds.
If I had any comment to make, it would be that they could do with spicing up the food a tad. With a bottle of Spanish Valdelapinta Rueda 2012 (€26) and optional service, our bill came to €66.
Worth noting is their Taste of Opium menu, which is applicable to groups of four or more, at €25 per person.
Designed to be shared communal style, this menu gives a selection of dim sum, and five main courses covering two beef, two fish and one chicken dish. It also includes two desserts; perfect for a group night out.
Opium Restaurant and Cocktail Bar
26 Wexford Street,
Tel: (01) 526-7711