What: A night out in China Town starting with hotpot specialists Shuang Shuang before heading over to a bar in a bar Opium.
New? Opium opened in December 2012 while Shuang Shuang opened in January 2016.
Where? Shuang Shuang: 64 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 6LU / Opium: 15-16 Gerrard Street, London W1D 6JE www.chinatown.co.uk
On the menu: Shuang Shuang has brought a cornerstone of Asian cuisine to central London with the simple DIY hot pot; choose your broth and dipping sauce from the menu whilst you hand pick everything else from the conveyor belt. Opium is predominantly a cocktail bar but they also serve dim sum and buns.
The Look: Shuang Shuang’s glass walls makes it light and spacious, with the winding conveyor belt twisting over the dining space and people seated either side, the kitchen is connected to the belt at one end giving them easy access to keep adding new dishes. The location of Opium is given away by a door sign above the entrance guarded by a burly doorman who directs us upstairs to the first bar which is lined with black medicine bottles labelled only by Chinese symbols in red (if the barman forgets their Mandarin the English label is underneath). Each of the 3 bars within Opium has a different personality and menu to fit, even the music is different as you change rooms. Touches of the Chinese lucky colour of red is found throughout as Opium juxtaposes 1960s Hong Kong and modern hipster.
What We Ate: I picked the Temple Brew broth at Shuang Shuang which is vegan and made with soy milk that they brew in house daily, mushrooms, white turnip and dried liquorice root which is poured into the hot pot and left to boil. In the mean-time you pick your ingredients from the conveyor belt which is divided into sections of meat, fish and shellfish, greens and roots, and noodles, rice and tofu. Everything cooks relatively quickly but some of the vegetables like butternut squash and lotus need a while to soften. A favourite was the Chinese dough which is just deep-fried bits of dough akin to Chinese croutons. Over at Opium their vegetarian dim sum platter contains 3 monk’s vegetable dumplings, 3 mushroom and truffle and 3 seasonal vegetable dumplings all of which are full of flavour and ideal to go with a few cocktails.
What We Drank: A popular soft drink in Asia, Black Jelly, consists of sliced jelly cubes mixed with sugar syrup and water, and has a flavour similar to flat coke, perhaps not the most appealing description but it tastes amazing and is served chilled at Shuang Shuang. Cocktails created with tea, spice, smoke and theatrical flair are the norm at Opium who has a list of signature and house cocktails but their most exciting menu is the zodiac menu where each cocktail is based on the animal from its zodiac sign and served in animal-shaped mugs. Want some dramatic flair? Go for the dragon, the waiter lights flammable tissue so it looks as though it’s breathing fire. The drink has a peppery, fiery taste, very fitting. The rabbit mug is adorable and the cocktail reflects its characteristics with a much sweeter taste thanks to the prosecco.
Go With: The hot pots at Shuang Shuang are a fun idea and are ideal for first dates as they keep you occupied working out the cooking method and trying to obtain the ingredients you want plus Opium is just round the corner to finish off the evening with some interesting drinks.
Final Word: While the idea of Shuang Shuang is good the actual flavour was lacking; the broth is the key ingredient as the basis of the meal but was wholly bland. On the other hand, Opium’s dim sum was delicious plus they have a strong menu of original and interesting cocktails served in any of the bars and with 3 options one of them is sure to tickle your fancy.
Like this? Try here: China Town
Shuang Shuang: 64 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 6LU www.shuangshuang.co.uk
Opium: 15-16 Gerrard Street, London W1D 6JE www.opiumchinatown.com