291 - 297 Queen Street,
(09) 379 0888
The ViewAuckland Review
3 out of 5
Opium is one of the most imposingly opulent spaces in Auckland.
We walked in through the slightly daunting front door—the facing wall seems to glow vibrant red, and the curved stairway to the side is like a secret passage.
Past the un-manned reception desk and through a bar without customers; eventually a bartender smiled nervously at us and set about locating us at a table.
This is designed as a place to see and be seen. Everyone who passes from the bar into the dining room is instantly on show to several tiers of booth tables. The maitresse d’ tucked us behind a table and eagerly started seeing to our food needs.
We dined between 9.30pm and 11pm, and never were more than five tables occupied. (This was Friday and Opium is in a prime position in the middle of Auckland’s cinema and theatre quarter).
Luckily the plush upholstery, grand Chinese antiques, muted lighting and funky soundtrack softened what could have been an uncomfortably empty cavern of a restaurant.
Our drinks took ages to arrive. They certainly weren’t struggling to keep up with the orders, so maybe it was the enormous distance the waiters had to walk to and fro.
To match the menu of simplified Chinese standards, I chose a pilsner from the full range of Monteith’s beers on offer ($6.50). From a competent wine list, my companion had a Waipara Hills pinot noir ($11) to counter the star anise in her choice of main.
Apart from attentive refilling of water glasses, service seemed to slow to a grinding halt. Our starter took half an hour to arrive. And it was disappointing. Billed as crispy duck salad ($18—the most expensive of the “tasters” listed separately from entrées) it was in fact a few scraps of dry, brittle duck meat hiding under mesclun salad mix. Fried lotus-root chips didn’t boost the exotic factor.
Mains were much better. My ‘drunken chicken’ ($25) was lightly seasoned with Szechuan pepper. The fat slab of breast meat had been sliced into medallions and doused in a pungent sake-based sauce.
My companion’s pork belly ($25) was also a generous helping of meat—three thick slices—but unfortunately a bit on the tough side. The star anise sauce tasted more like five-spice. Both our mains sat on a good portion of bok choy and were topped with a mound of micro-greens and shredded carrot. A side of steamed rice cost $5.
We passed on dessert as well as the maitresse d’s offer to stay for the DJ. My sources tell me Opium is always quiet. Maybe one day a parade of beautiful people would arrive to help realise its potential as a stylish venue.
Opium has been reviewed by 3 users