So does Longrain remain the best Thai in town? Pull up a seat at the bar, order a caipiroska and debate at leisure
The on-again off-again rooftop drinking spot Melbourne has been waiting for is currently in an 'off’' phase, alas, but fear not, punters: Longrain nonetheless harbours one of the town’s best bars. There it is, hidden in plain sight, butting into the broad room like an island of civility in a chilli-fuelled brouhaha. You might be cooling your heels here for some time thanks to the no bookings policy (for groups of four and under), and the Sydney interloper’s popularity that shows no signs of abating almost ten years since it planted its flag on Chinatown’s northern outskirts.
It looks the same. No need to mess with the faux-saloon feel, fed by wagon wheel chandeliers and the sheer expanse of the red brick room that illustrates the law of supply and demand and fills up fairly comprehensively by 7pm. Green tiles like fish scales anchor the back wall. It’s kooky with a side order of pleasing but be warned: noise levels are supersonic thanks in part to the DJ on weekends and the broad communal tables that demand either shouting or semaphore flags. Take your pick.
It’s a menu light-on in the small-dish stakes, so ordering everything that counts as an appetiser is pretty much non-negotiable. Go the freshly-shucked oysters that arrive with a beaker of vibrant red nam jim; go the betel leaves, especially citrusy the one with the green mango and the toasted coconut. Above all, go the sticky, caramelised puck of pork on top of a juicy chunk of pineapple for the world’s finest iteration of sweet and sour.
And then you’re pretty much facing 13-odd main sized dishes and you’d better hope you have a bunch of mates along for the side to optimize the experience. The signature masterstock-simmered pork hock is still there, redolent with five spice, nicely sluiced with a whack of chilli vinegar. If you want something to sum up the whole sweet-sour-salty-bitter-hot balancing act that is Thai cooking, that’s it, right there. There’s a whole fried snapper, the face gazing balefully as battered chunks of its body are dipped into a thick, sweet, complex tamarind caramel sauce flecked with red chilli. There’s slow-cooked beef cheek, with a throat-grabbing measure of black vinegar, and a forest of fresh herbs. Coming off that onslaught, the black sticky rice, silky-rich with coconut sorbet and longan (a fruit cousin of the lychee) is like slipping into satin sheets.