The bad news that Longrain had succumbed to COVID-19 and was shutting up shop for good barely had time to register before, white knight-style, chef and serial restaurateur Scott Pickett rode in and saved it. But in the midst of the celebration, there was also the thought: what was Euro-leaning Pickett (Estelle, Matilda, Chancery Lane etc) going to do with one of Melbourne's few reliable Thai restaurants?
For starters, he's retained the entire kitchen team, including long-time head chef Arté Assavakavinvong. He's also kept some of Longrain's greatest hits. The eggnet wrapped around the crunchy sweet-sour jumble of prawns, pomelo and bean shoots kept its place on the team as did the much-loved flavour bomb betel leaf snack with its seared scallop, finger lime, galangal and salmon roe topping.
But it's not all business as usual. Subtle changes to the room – some new chairs, upholstery and light fittings, a lick of paint – have refreshed the cavernous room's great bones, adding a little sophistication without sacrificing any of the good-time party vibe that seems to demand pre-dinner cocktails (like a surprisingly successful coconut- and chilli-infused Martini).
Similar tweaks are also planned for the gorgeous upstairs bar Longsong, including a menu that's going to emphasise Thai street food-style char-grilled things on sticks.
Downstairs, Pickett is offering à la carte dining alongside a banquet menu. Longrain's Signature banquet is all about old favourites given a nip and tuck by Pickett with dishes like panang curry of lamb adding another layer of complexity via saltbush lamb that's first char-grilled, then slathered in panang curry paste and slow-cooked in a curry made with a lamb stock base.
The duck egg steamed custard dessert is similarly reworked, baked to crème brûlée-like texture and served with frozen citrus and fresh finger lime. It's a very successful twist on the original Martin Boetz classic.
The à la carte menu is a mix of classic and new with Pickett collaborating with the Longrain kitchen team on dishes like a soupy, fragrant smashed prawn number, rich with eggplant and sweet potato and spiked with galangal, cumquat and ginger, and beef shin braised in black vinegar.
The news at Pickett's rejigged Longrain is mostly good, though less sugar and more heat and sourness would be welcome. The best news, though, is that it's still with us.