No bongs in basement den

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I was nervous when I heard that Red Opium had based its theme on a 1940s Bangkok opium den.

Would I walk in and find diners lying down, puffing on three-foot wooden pipes?

Thankfully, it was crammed with respectable couples and Thai families with nary a bamboo bong to be seen.

This little basement-number on Hay Street has been open for just seven weeks.

Formally a karaoke bar, it has been transformed into an atmospheric restaurant—billowing chiffon, Chinese furniture and oriental muzak.

The decor was sparse but somehow, by alternating red and black on a grand scale, the owners have created a convincing theme.

I was excited by a large menu of Thai tapas dishes that didn’t pander to cliche.

There was a nice mix of small and large vegetable (asparagus with anchovy sauce), meat (marinated quail) and seafood dishes (oyster shooters).

Red Opium gets bonus points for having a dedicated lunch menu, as some restaurants sneakily make you pay premium prices from an all-day list.

With ‘er indoors feeling poorly, I was joined by Voice colleague David Bell and his intellectual squeeze Bec.

We ordered crying wagyu ($16.80), red opium asparagus ($6.80), sugar cane prawns ($11.80), Hor Mok ($11.80) and f-duck ($23.80).

“The f-duck was the standout: The sauce nicely spiced with a decent kick to it, the duck meat tender and rich, and the veggies soft and well-baked,” David opined.

“The crying wagyu was similarly high class—thin slices of meat, beautifully pink in the middle, are draped in a biting spicy dip.”

Meanwhile, Bec was snaffling her veggie dish.

“The red opium asparagus is the best way to trick people who don’t like eating their greens into enjoying vegetables,” she said.

“The well-cooked slices of asparagus and chewy mushroom are spotted with garlic and draped in salty anchovy sauce.”

David was now circling the table, eyeing up a plate of sugar cane prawns.

“These marinated prawns are minced along with fish, served in a fried coating on a sugar cane stick,” he said.

“The red opium salsa is wonderfully tangy, nicely offsetting the deep savouries of the coating and the seafood innards.

“The curry seafood parcel (Hor Mok) was the only thing that didn’t wow—the squid(?) was a little rubbery and the curry flavour undetectable.”

Throughout the night, service was great and we were pampered by a retinue of smiling waitresses.

My only gripe was asking for still water and receiving a branded bottle that set us back a hefty $7.80 at the till; although they do only charge $2 per head for BYO.

Red Opium’s dishes were a mixed bag: some sensational, others an interesting experiment.

The owners have tried to push the envelope and try something different—that has to be applauded—and the basement setting is lots of fun.

Red Opium
21/326 Hay Street, Perth
9221 8780

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