Thursday, July 20, 2006

Longrain: Restaurant Review

Reluctant Admission: This post should be entitled a Tale of Two Festivals. Because I actually dined here ages ago, and by complete coincidence during the Melbourne Fashion Festival and then the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

This isn't a review of the cookbook attached to the famous Sydney restaurant, it's a review of the restaurant which finally opened its second site in Melbourne earlier this year! I was dining with NBF (non-blogging friends) and I just didn't think they'd understand if I kept whipping out the camera. As you do.

For a young hip place, there were a surprising number of older couples dining that night. This balanced out the many packs of women, some amazing tall, some bizarrely (and not in the Harper's way) dressed. I was puzzled by all the female groups and their getup until I realised, of course, it's Melbourne Fashion Week. TA DA!

Longrain make a big deal out of their cocktails and my Virgin Mule (I shudder to think what searches THAT will bring to this site) was the best one I've had in a while. Absolutely packed with fresh mint, this was easily worth $8.00. They don't take reservations in the evening and I suspect that this is a cunning ploy to force diners to wait awhile in the lounge area and order more and more cocktails and tasty snacks. If you're not into waiting, try a quiet night, get there early or book for lunch.

On my first visit, we ordered the red duck curry, eggnet with bean sprouts, prawn and pork, the crispy Barossa chicken with plum sauce, another curry and a salt and pepper Barramundi special. Now the Barossa dish will set you back a fair bit and I remember muttering to a friend "this had better be some chicken for $41.50!". But when it came, it was worth every penny. Practically a whole chicken, steamed and then crispy fried and coated in dark, sticky plum sauce. And the eggnet, which didn't sound that exciting, was delicious, filled with Asian herbs, beansprouts and a light and fragrant dressing. Surprisingly, the duck curry wasn't up to the same standards. I love love love duck, but this was ordinary. I've had better duck curries at the local Thai takeaway. Hmmmn

The portions at Longrain are large, so that while the prices of the dishes are quite high, you don't need to order as many. Our party cancelled the Barramundi special after it didn't arrive with the other main meals and none of us were able to fit in dessert. Which was a shame because some of them sounded great. But after a couple of cocktails each, snacks, wine and then dinner, there was just no room.

My next visit was en route to a Dylan Moran show at the Comedy Festival (goes to look at DM site for link and gets very distracted for about, oh an hour). Figman and I popped in for a quick dinner before the show which was only hampered by three things (1) my foolish guidance by the waiter re cocktail choice (2) food choice and (3) my foolish belief that the show would not start for at least an hour after the advertised starting time. I don't think (1) or (2) really bothered Figman, but (3) definitely had him on edge. Now (1) the waiter talked me into trying his fave cocktail and while it was okay, it was nothing compared to the Mule (we got another of those, mit vodka this time). (2) Food choice: I ordered a few betel leaves to start. These are simply expensive, tiny and not particularly interesting. I ordered the Barossa chicken and eggnet again, plus the caramelised pork hoc with five spice and chilli vinegar. Foolish me assumed that the pork would be slow cooked and soft, similiar to onions. And it was, but then it was deep fried and then coated in caramel, which was just too much sweet fried food in combination with the chicken. I felt that in a restaurant of this calibre, the waitstaff should have picked this up and suggested an alternative. A curry would have been more appropriate in the mix.

I've eaten snacks at the lounge tables and dinner at both the round tables (for larger groups) and the long communal tables. The round tables are frankly a pain, as their width ensures that you cannot hear anyone, other than the person to your immediate right and left. Give up on the conversation across the table. And I always think communal tables are overrated, but if you're at one of these, try sitting next to your fellow diner, rather than opposite as Longrain is a noisy, noisy restaurant.

Again, I didn't get to try dessert, despite some longing looks at the menu as Figman looked outraged that I was even considering waiting around for some sweet tropical fancy. He grabbed the bill and hustled me out of there. "I don't know what your hurry is!" I complained. "You know there'll be some dire support act on and it'll run for at least an hour". He stuck me on a tram when my high heels indicated that we were never going to get there on time. We walked into the lobby and I protested "See! All these people standing around! I soo could have had dessert!". We walked to our seats and sat down. 30 seconds later, the house lights went down. And then Dylan Moran walked onto stage.

I don't often stand corrected, but occasionally, I could do with saving from my self. Or at least the dessert menu every now and then!


At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

Ahhh. We went to see Dylan Moran in Sydney this year (dark, but wonderful) and having gone for a drink beforehand thought that we were not going to make it to the show in time.

Fortunately, as we rushed out of the pub, so did Dylan (alone) and so we agreed that so long as we could get there before him it was unlikely that they'd start the show without us.

I love a man who has a few pints before his show, drinks red wine and smokes his way through the show and then can be found in the pub down the road after the show (same one, we went back for a drink, so did he - but not alone this time).

At 1:37 PM, Blogger foodkitty said...

We did a very similar thing before Ross Noble. It was pissing with rain, we had no brollies and so lingered at Arintje (not from Melbourne so forgive if that's not its name but the one in Federation Square) Not a hard thing to do give the service was a bit slow (we had said we had to be out on time). It was full, and steamy with dampish bodies, but the food was wonderful (except an ordinary curry); should have lingered more... but the show started on the dot; we missed a little bit of the opening.
Hilarious, rambly show. At half time, as we queued for our beers, a door bitch at the bar of the bar kept shushing us. It took a while to work out what this intermittent hiss was-apparently there was another show still going in the side theatre. Maybe if they'd been laughing more....

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous jules from stonesoup said...

thanks for this review...I'm a sydney sider and have just realised how long it's been since i've been to longrain...

you should try their bloody longrain next time..a beautifully spicy version of a bloody mary..

At 7:36 PM, Blogger shaz said...

I have read a lot about Longrain but missed the chance to dine there when I visited aussie last year. Borrowed the cookbook though. Quite like the modern take on Thai food.

At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Juliette said...

I went to Longrain in Sydney last year and the desserts were my favourite thing there! I think we had a dessert platter which was pretty rich - next time I go I'll just order one main and then dessert...
I think Martin Boetz is doing a cooking class soon at Essential Ingredient which should be pretty interesting.

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous foodanista said...

I did the Masterclass with Martin Boetz at Essential, and was the only one who had eaten at his restaurants. Unlike his mentor, David Thompson, Martin's recipes are laborious and difficult to recreate. I have his book and now just use it for inspiration.

I have eaten at both Longrain in Sydney and Melbourne and have found the Melbourne dishes to be formatted slightly differently. As much as I have always enjoyed the food, I have to admit that the roaring ambient noise and distance across the tables is enough to discourage me from being a frequent visitor.

I find the inevitable wait for a table, and pressure to order a coctail is a bit of a scam too. If you like this kind of fare, then I highly recommend a visit to Attica in Ripponlea, where Ben Shewry, another David Thompson protegee serves up inspired and sublime dishes in a less prententious and hyped up venue.


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