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Opium Den ($-$$)
89 Macleay Street
Potts Point NSW 2011, Australia
+ (02) 9331 2255
RATING: One Night Stand
Very rarely does one find a person that believes ‘honesty is the best policy’. Perhaps I’m a masochist, but I appreciate when someone has the balls to call it like it is. And even more amazed when a company decides to tell the truth in advertising. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why McDonald’s can’t be forthright in describing what part (or parts) of a chicken the McNugget is actually made from or how cigarette ads like these ever found themselves published.
Clearly without some serious bullshitting in advertising, products that are terrible for you would never find their way into the publics eye. Giant corporations often pay top dollar to come up with sleek, creative ad campaigns that make consumers buy into their product. There’s a reason an ad agency opted for Betty White to sink her teeth into a snickers bar, over let’s say, Paula Deen. Betty makes eating a snickers feel safe and good for you while Paula immediately makes you see the early onset of stage two diabetes. The truth of the matter is Paula should be the one promoting the over-processed, sugar packed candy bar saying to consumers, “Hey y’all, eat enough of these here nougaty, caramelly, peanut packed fun bars that really satisfy and you might just find yourself one step closer to a daily syringe in your arm, yee haw”
The point of my lead up is if more restaurants could be honest in their advertising, life would be so much easier. If the diner near my house just called itself Roach Infested Sh**hole, then I’d know just what I was in for. Or if a restaurant that severed disgusting Greek food called itself just that, it would save me the hassle of trying to figure out who or what the hell Papaadopoulos actually was and why he/she/it/they opened a restaurant in the first place.
Needless to say, when we found ourselves dining at a Thai restaurant called Opium Den in Potts Point, I was thrilled to find the truth in advertising finally paying off. The restaurant managed to live up to its name and then some.
Opium dens were popular in many parts of the world during the 19th century and were essentially the place to go to get all f*#% up on smoking some intense opiates, legally. (Today, we know that place as Amsterdam.)
Dining at the Opium Den was indeed like taking a trip down the rabbit hole, minus Alice and fun part. The restaurant was dark and crowded, just how I imagined opium dens back in the day to be. The restaurant had one large room that unfolded into several smaller rooms. Each one containing at least one massive communal table flanked by several child like tables. It was laid out as though Mama bear and Goldilocks decided to full on Thelma and Louise it outta town, leaving Papa and Baby to redecorate by themselves. Either you dined with a group of strangers at a big table or you knocked knees with your guest at a baby table.
Anyway, we walked in and had to search high and low for someone, anyone, to help us score a table. We tried to stop a small, ancient Thai woman walking by to ask how one might go about sitting at a table but she looked dazed, as though she were on her final trip and continued walking as though we didn’t exist. With no waiting area or bar to stand in we found ourselves nestled between two bathroom doors adjacent to the kitchen. The combination of foul bathroom stench mixed with the sweet fragrance of ginger and fish sauce was enough to put me over the edge. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, why didn’t you just leave. But having what my friend Deb likes to call FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) I wasn’t about to miss out on anything…not yet anyway. Finally the same old woman returned and literally shooed us with menus to a large communal table and barked “sit, sit” then dropped menus and disappeared again. We sat for what seemed like an eternity and digested the menu a good ten minutes until a young server finally caught sight of my arm being held high in the air like I had a tattle to tell. She slowly made her way over to our table, as though she was wading through a pool of honey. I informed her that we were famished and ready to order to which she squinted and mumbled, “oh, oh, someone be rit wit you” then smiled as though to say, “you no idea of trip you missing out on, mister” and leisurely sauntered back towards the kitchen. At that moment it became clear to me that opium was definitely being enjoyed, but not in the den as advertised, but rather somewhere deep within the kitchen. We were forced to have to deal with the disorientation and often slow response to any and all questions we had about food, space or time by anyone on staff. The silver lining however was that they honored the BYOW system, so a friend of ours ran across the street and bought two bottles of wine to tide us over. Tragically, trying to secure a wine bucket was a whole different story. After asking several people, a woman finally brought over a bucket filled with no more than a handful of ice cubes, defeating the purpose of actually chilling the wine. Thankfully we decided to tear through the bottles quickly enough to bypass the need to keep it chilled. By the time a waitress finally decided to acknowledge our presence, we placed our order and waited for what seemed like days for a single dish to arrive. I really only remember liking two out of the eight dishes or so that we ordered. The large chunks of beef in the massaman curry were not only tender but the perfect host to the complexities of the slightly sweet and spicy curry.
The Pad Thai also managed to be right on the money. It was not overly wet or too dry like so many Thai restaurants tend to prepare noodles and it had a generous amount of chicken sprinkled throughout. The rest of the dishes we ordered included an order of oily flavorless spring rolls,
Thai beef jerky that took forever to make and a fish entrée that was not only bland but was also cold. Ugh.
At the end of the day, I only have myself to blame. Opium Den clearly advertised exactly what I have always wanted in a restaurant-the plain and simple truth. It was right there in the title. They weren’t trying to sugar coat it or trick me into thinking I should be thankful dining somewhere on a Friday, when it was really Tuesday all along. My only regret is that I was not alive in the 19th century to have had the opportunity to truly comprehend what happened in those dens. Now I have a better understanding, nothing happens and nothing gets done. Had I a known better, I suppose I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. My only major criticism is that if you don’t have enough Opium to share with the whole class, then you just shouldn’t be smoking it at all. Kob kun mak man, Opium Den.
A lot of time, a 12-step sponsor and a translator couldn’t hurt.