With history in mind, one might find a restaurant named Opium in Chinatown to be somewhat bad taste. As it goes, this is anything but. Like its neighbours, the Experimental Cocktail Club, it is nestled high above the Chinese eateries we know the area for. Owners Dre Masso and Eric Yu have drawn inspiration from 19th century opium dens in their theme. A smoking signature cocktail made with kaffir lime, mandarin, absinthe and rum is a pleasing shock to the system; a toilet that shouts at you is just shocking. A smattering of dim sum make up the single-page food menu, and the scallop, coriander and pea dumplings could rival any on Gerrard Street. The sesame and poppy lobster prawn toast is another must-try.
Tonkotsu is the sort of place you can follow your nose to; the bubbling stock-pot by the window is surely designed to lure in passers-by. Owned by the people behind Tsuru Sushi, this new venture skilfully rides the wave of noodle fever currently flooding Soho. As is usually the case with anything namesake, the tonkotsu noodle dish (which translates as ‘pork bone’) is one to try. Creamy and only slightly gelatinous from the pork stock, with a fragrant edge coming from near-raw spring onions, it’s salivating stuff to slurp your way through. The rest of the menu is simple and compact. Ramen sit with sides such as prawn and pork gyoza, edamame and crisp deep-fried chicken karaage, but it’s the noodles which bring in the oodles.
80 Wardour Street, Soho London, W1F 0TF
Wahaca is all Mexican street food but underneath the Soho venue lies the new Azulito Bar, the purveyor of a fine selection of tequilas. Descend the staircase from this popular Wahaca into a Mexican bar of fun.
Décor and Ambience
Like Wahaca upstairs, Azulito’s colourful décor projects fun – it’s all about the bold red, flashy blue and lime green. While the vibrant colours thrown together aren’t exactly harmonious, they somehow work for this pocket of Mexicano. The furniture, similarly, are an eclectic mix. You have your wicker swing chairs, your low wired stools, your strong wooden benches, your cushioned recliners – in short you have quite a selection of comfortable seating options to choose from. And in case there wasn’t enough of a crazy mix, there is also table football to the side so you can indulge in something a bit more than just good food and tequila. Olé!
Atmosphere and Clientèle
Azulito’s Soho location means that it’s filled with a mixed crowd. There’s no dress code and the venue is relaxed so the crowd rather reflects the décor – colourful. Lots of people will have filtered down from Wahaca above as they wait for their tables or after they’ve eaten, but of course there is no reason why you can’t just pop in for a drink or two (or three..or four…)
The capacity of the venue means that while there’s a buzzy atmosphere, it never feels over-crowded which for Soho is a god send. Most people seem to go there to catch up with friends over a love of tequila as despite the music, it’s not a place to throw your shapes and embarass yourself on a dancefloor
Food and Drinks
There is only one drink you should have at Azulito – tequila. The bar is stocked with an impressive 80 different tequilas, all made with 100% agave. In case you’re wondering, it takes at least 51% blue agave (Azulito means “little blue” in case you were wondering) for a spirit to be classed as tequila so 100% is as good as it gets. Prices start from a little over £3 for a 25ml shot to £45 for that same measure depending on quality and rarity. Of course when they measured it out in shot glasses, they really wanted you to sip and savour as each listing in the tequila menu is accompanied by a short tasting note…a very impressive touch.
The other drinks on offer are also very affordable. Cocktails, all tequila based, barely tip £7 and wines peak at £20 a bottle though you can buy it by the glass or in carafes too. But if you wanted food, it’s best to head upstairs and indulge in something spicy and filled with black beans, because downstairs is all about la tequila.
The music in Azulito is unmistakably Latino – it’s probably not something that you’ll recognise, unless your bag is Mexican of course. But it is all about the Spanish guitars strumming away in a speedy pattern that will get your hips moving and feet tapping. You might even hear the occasional brass to really drum up the fanfare. The music is loud enough so that, should the mood take you, you can do a little salsa, but not loud enough to drown out the hubbub of chatter.
Azulito is central, it’s fun and it’s inexpensive – that’s a pretty good combination for a great night out in London. Suited and booted isn’t quite its style though so make sure you leave the office at the door. But invite some friends, grab some change and find the tequila that tickles your taste buds.
Budget: Happily affordable
Pre-designs: After work drinks, Chill with your mates, Fun-Time Party Night, Pre-Drinks