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Friday, May 24, 2013

Bites: Red Opium @ Perth CBD

With catchy names like F-duck, Kiss of Death, and Crying Wagyu populating its menu, Red Opium is without a doubt one of the most interesting entries in Perth this year.  While the menu screams Thai, do not be fooled as Red Opium prefers to be called “Thai inspired”.  So if owner Penny drops by your table, authentic is not a word that will score you points.   This new eatery distinguishes itself from the conventional by offering unique Thai-styled tapas.   Funny thing though is that they do not serve alcohol.  Perhaps it is something they might soon obtain as I know how good Thai cocktails can be with fruits, vodka and a hint or basil/mint.  For me, its even better than a Mexican Sangria.

For Mei and Ness’s birthday dinner tonight, we had the banquet @ $50 per person.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first appetizer was the yin and yang dip.  Presumably the light creamy dip was the yang.  It was finely diced prawns in a delicious coconut broth.  The crunch from the Papadam was perfect to accompaniment for the yummy prawn dip which benefit from the sweetness of the coconut milk.  The next one was minced meat with pork crackling.  At this point I feel compelled to praise the chef behind this appetizer because it was super simple but it worked.   Just basic crunchy goodness!  With the Indian influence in the papadam and Western influence from the crackling, it was clear that the direction of Red Opium was more Thai-inspired than Thai-authentic. 



The next dish was the Petite satay.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile it was decent, it was far from mind blowing.  The chicken bites were tender and the peanut sauce was OK, but in terms of flavors it felt lacking.  Coming from Malaysia I expected the satay to have more flavor.  Something like ginger, turmeric and more spices. 


Next came the tom yam soup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEating this dish, it was a shame that Red Opium insists that their food is Thai-inspired and not Thai-authentic because it was one heck of a Tom Yam.  The flavors were all spot on.  It had spicy, sour, salty and spicy all in one magic concoction.  Also, it has been awhile since I had prawns which I can really say hit that spot of freshness with a mild sea flavor to it still present.  All seafood here are sourced from Kailis when I spoke to the owner!  To top it off, this for me was definitely a great dish that could have been Thai-authentic. Oh, and if you ask for hot, do prepare to taste some heat.  I bit into a chili and did not feel so manly after.


After the three appetizers, we had a great time catching up with Mei on her time onsite and joked about the typical lame rubbish we always do.  Felt good as we do not meet up quite as often as we would like to!  It took nearly 45 minutes for our mains to be served.  But this came with a good explanation as the kitchen was short of 1 chef as he had fallen ill.  In fact, the owner kindly offered us drinks which we all declined to have (except Ness) as we are responsible drivers :P! 


First main was the F-duck; Roast duck, red curry, veggies, lychees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture IMHO is a give away.  This was Red Opium’s reinterpretation of the classic Roast Duck red curry.  What flavors does one expect?  Definitely a rich curry with great flavors coming from the fruit, duck and vegetables.  The curry sauce felt nice but in our opinion was way too little to enjoy with the rice.  Then again, it was intentional as the dish wanted to promote the other elements like cherry tomatoes, brussel sprouts and such.  I found that reasoning to be poor in justification as a diner but this is a clear case of design vs practicality.  Like a classic case of engineer vs architects, there is almost no right or wrong but a matter of preference.  Last highlight of this dish was the fact that the roast duck sat nicely there allowing its skin to still be mildly crisp which was quite a treat!


Next dish was the Masaman Beef; Slow-cooked beef cheeks, potatoes, masaman curry, peanuts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis for me was a true curry dish.  I have had many variations of the Masaman  as well as the Panang curry and would decline to comment on the flavor as every goddamn version seem to taste different.  But hey, this was tasty and it was everything a curry should be.  For me, the Masaman curry was the highlight with the tender beef and potatoes cooked perfectly.  It was not lacking in sauce or spices and because of this, I had heaps of rice.  A good curry and a generous serve of rice; god this was a meal on its own.  Delicious.


As Red Opium revolves about Thai-inspired cuisine, its decoration is not cluttered but felt rather stylish which made its food good to look at and at the same time tasty.  Sure its no dehydrated apple with a golden string through it like Robuchon and neither does it use foam or smoke like Amuse but hey! This was pretty decent!  Taste wise, I did not really put much effort in deciphering the elements but the use of garlic was quite obvious here.


The Kiss of Death; king prawns, garlic, caramelized sauce.


The next dish we ordered was the Fisherman’s Catch; deep fried snapper fillets, soya bean oil, peanuts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne the outside, these snapper fillets look exactly like the perfect beer battered fish n’ chips that Heston does.  It was crunchy, crispy and just so beautifully fried.  While not everyone likes batter and some might liken it to the rip-off Chinese sweet and sour pork , I really enjoyed the batter.  The downfall though was the flesh of the fish which was  a little tough a.k.a rubbery with a slight stench too.  My friends and I also found the sweet savory sauce to be insufficient for those generous slices of fish.


A dish which came last in the banquet was the Som Tum; paw paw, green beans, dried shrimps, peanuts, soft shell crab.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis again felt good.  It was IMHO Thai-authentic.  Very hard to fault with a minimalistic dish but then again, it is something the chef is expected to do right, and in this instance it was.  My question here really, is it the correct course to arrive before the dessert?  Was this a palate cleanser? It was refreshing but the acidity mixed with the slight sweetness and saltiness make a person feel like eating more.  For me, this should have been served as the first main or even along with the other appetizers.

The dessert that night was ice cream with a choice of jackfruit or mangosteen.


Both came out in little glasses and it was great to see such rare flavors reaching the table despite its out of this world price.  I really liked the flavor and the small bite size mangosteen in the ice cream.  I would question the floss but if it does no harm then I will just let it be.  Around the table most people would have enjoyed the ice cream as no one shows signs of displeasure.


Red Opium really felt like a great place for tapas dining. In fact, if an alcohol license is soon obtained,  Red Opium might need a bigger floor space.  However, it play its game risky by calling itself Thai-inspired and not Thai-authentic.  This always brings in the question of whether enough has been done or has it achieved enough to succeed an authentic culture.  Surely Red Opium is no old hag or a lazy slob playing safe as I tasted and saw from my dinner.  Execution was great but to me, it still lacked that final bit of finesse like the lack of sauce, and the freshness of the produce as seen in the case of the fish. However, if one were to find out the background of the owners which hails from the engineering industry, I am pretty chuffed to see how far they have came with their culinary skills.  I work in an engineering firm and I see what people eat everyday….. @@.. I shall cease to comment as it may result in insult.  Anyways, for $50 a head, I would definitely come back!



Red Opium on Urbanspoon