There’s a scene in the Polish film Czlowiek z marmuru where a controversial documentary about a Stakhanovite named Birkut is pulled, ostensibly on account of its having exceeded its budget, in fact because it was coming too close to an indictment of Soviet censorship. Conversely, we looked through the windows of Savannah, where we’d booked, and decided against going – ostensibly because it was completely deserted, actually because it’s bloody expensive considering it’s only one level up from an Old Orleans steakhouse. South Oxford yielded little until we walked into the beautiful Opium Den of silv’ry George Street. First things first. This has all the Opium Dennery of a Covent Garden Carhartt store. No ancient sofas with hand-weaved throws, no poppy seeds or flickering flames or men with AKs. Still, comfy nonetheless. Feeling hungry, we ordered away with gay abandon. Annoyingly-named but impressively crisp ‘seaweed’, crunchy, yielding won tons and an aromatic crispy duck were followed by prawns in a gloopy garlic and root vegetable sauce with semi-raw ginger slices the size of 50 pence coins and chilli szechuan beef. All delicious apart from the beef, which tasted as if someone had shoved it under the sink for a few weeks. We called madame over (‘you will have some lice, please?’) and she smiled faintly as we described its peppery grottiness. She tottered over to the kitchens, and up rose a wail of impotent despair before the trouser-suited head honcha herself came tearing round to our table, whipping away the offensive dish and plonking down exquisite, fizzling beefy loveliness, another bottle of Syrah and the promise of port to finish. She was a one. We enjoyed our meal quietly thank you, rolled on to Thirst, and knew with absolute certainty that we would come again.
ARCHIVE: 4th week TT 2003