Eggnet, prawn & pork with cucumber relish
PICTURES DARRIAN TRAYNOR
The winter downturn in new restaurant openings has been a blessing in disguise for the questing reviewer. In the absence of any big-name
debuts (we’ll get to you shortly, Moon Under Water), there’s an opportunity at last to revisit old favourites, those Melbourne institutions where a good time is virtually guaranteed.
Places such as Longrain, the high-Thai transplant from Sydney that brought some much-needed class to Chinatown when it debuted there in 2006.
The Longrain experience should always begin with cocktails – in our case, a round of stickmata, one of the original “stick drinks” (fruit crushed into booze using a wooden truncheon) conceived by Martin Boetz and Sam Christie at their pioneering Sydney warehouse restaurant in 1999.
Many’s the night I (barely) remember being corralled into the bar of their Surry Hills hotspot and being plied with stick drinks for 60, sometimes 90 minutes, before being escorted into the restaurant proper and poured into my seat at the communal table. I can’t recall ever having had a sober meal at this place, but then I can’t recall ever having tired of those tasty stickmatas, berry and vodka confections named for their blood-red flush. Perhaps there’s a connection there somewhere.
Boetz and Christie’s stylish brick temple to Thai food, fashioned from a former stables up the parliamentary end of Little Bourke Street, remains so popular six years on that when we arrive at 7.30 on a Wednesday the waiter declares there will be a 90-minute wait for a table. (A fortnight later, on a Friday, it is a full two hours before we’re summoned to dine. Sweet Jesus.)
So we settle in at the bar, two on the banquette and me on one of those torturous tripod stools by the hip Italian designer Patricia Urquiola. The Hans Wegner “Wishbone” chairs are a hundred times more comfortable, but you have to be a group of six or more to score one of those babies and the handsome round dining tables with which they come.
While waiting at the bar (and you will always wait) it is de rigueur to order a betel leaf each, preferably the smoky trout version heady with galangal, lime and garlic, simmering with chilli heat, crunchy with peanuts and the salty pop of salmon roe. Best. Bar Snacks. Ever.
Except maybe for the bite-sized chunks of caramelised pork hock, their sugary sweetness, dense flavour and golden crunch reined in by a chilli vinegar that lends the dish a near-perfect pitch.
The sticky pork is so good it sparks a debate about death-row dishes. These would definitely be on my last-supper list; others in the group nominate the flame-grilled lamb cutlets at Gigibaba and Spice Temple’s salted caramel semifreddo.
Now, where were we? Oh yes, the ma hor. It’s amazeballs. Pop one in the mouth and the sunny pineapple disc bursts with sweet juices that drench a salty toffee ball of peanut, prawn, pork and palm sugar. Lolly gobble bliss bombs.
Next up, the famous eggnet, a shapely egg lattice of Guggenheim persuasions casing a medley of pork and prawn, peanuts, coriander, chilli and a small mountain of beanshoots. A side dish of cucumber “relish” – cucumber, chilli and shallot in rice-wine vinegar – livens things up considerably, but there’s no escaping all those sprouts. They’re not really my thing.
Nor is tofu normally, but here the stuff comes deep-fried with a salt-and-pepper crust and tangy tamarind sauce. Surprisingly moreish.
The generous servings make over-ordering easy. After all the above we still have to get through a massaman curry of grass-fed beef and kipfler potatoes. This is hardly a chore when the beef is tender enough to cut with a spoon and the sauce is rich with cinnamon smokiness and a chilli glow that warms the whole body.
If the cocktails become a bit much (as if), there’s a very interesting wine list compiled by Christie that leans towards unwooded drops and Asian-friendly grapes such as gewürztraminer and riesling.
Christie, a keen DJ who has co-produced several Longrain-branded CDs, might also have had something to do with the killer Friday-night playlist that thrills the ears with a Duran Duran megamix and then cranks up the party with winning tunes by New Order, Womack & Womack and the Style Council. Paul Weller’s infectious Shout to the Top has staff dancing like loons in front of the kitchen.
The evening ends on a similar high note with the coconut sorbet. There are other desserts on the menu – and we order a few of them – but for me nothing compares to this creamy-sweet coconut ice. It’s going straight onto the last-supper list too.
44 Little Bourke Street, city
Cuisine \ Thai
Chef \ Martin Boetz
Hip pocket \ Reckon on $65 a head, wine extra
Open \ Friday lunch noon-3pm; Mon-Fri 6-11pm; Sat 5.30-11pm, Sun 5.30-10pm
Highlights \ Fine Thai food, cocktails, fun
Lowlights \ The long wait
Bookings \ Limited, for groups of six or more only
Phone \ 9671 3151
We rate 8 out of 10