DRINK IT IN
LONGRAIN Melbourne’s upstairs little brother proves that OUTRAGEOUS GOOD LOOKS and a SMOKY wood-fired grill are sometimes ALL YOU NEED to make a BIG IMPRESSION, says Leanne Clancey.
SET UP IN THE GENTEEL, northern end of Melbourne’s Chinatown, mod-Thai pioneer Longrain has been drawing crowds for its big flavours and cocktail-fuelled buzz for over a decade now, but a one-level stair climb up to new sibling venue Longsong is like entering a different world, where Melbourne doesn’t really feel like Melbourne anymore – in the best possible way. It was one of the most anticipated and drawn-out openings of 2017, one that saw veteran Melbourne hospitality power couple John and Lisa van Haandel reunite with long-term collaborator, chef David Moyle – luring him from his post at Hobart’s highly regarded Franklin back to his home state. The project has been in the media and on the cards for what seems like years, so when the eagle finally landed in November, expectations were high. Before we go anywhere though, let’s get one thing straight: while the venue might have one of Australia’s hottest chefs at its helm, Longsong is principally a bar; a bar that also does food – most of which comes via the concise bar menu, the rest from a more extensive list and served in ‘The Stables’, a 30-seat, jungle-print carpeted dining area that flanks one side of the vast warehouse-style space. If you’re fond of a tipple, Longsong is going to be up there as one of Melbourne’s sexiest places to indulge. Devised by wine writer, Mike Bennie, the beverage offering is both inspired and approachable, with an extensive list of wines by the glass, and an honourably unpredictable representation of local winemakers, distillers and brewers. As at Longrain, cocktails are a feature, many of which – like the Maidenii vermouth and lemon thyme-accented spritz – are given an Aussie twist. Divided into around eight smaller dishes and five larger dishes, Moyle’s extended menu lends itself to sharing and speaks to his deftness in conjuring the essence of an ingredient without reliance on unnecessary over-complication. The fact that the kitchen manages to execute this with little more than a prep station and a wood-fired grill (no oven, no hotplates) is highly admirable and in no way a hindrance to deliciousness. Speaking of wood-fired grills, skewers here are a must, with the simply seasoned, charry duck hearts a great case in point for the transformative powers of smoke. A dry aged steak tartare sings all the right notes – paired with horseradish crème fraiche, studded with capers and diced cornichons and topped with crispy saltbush, it’s a textural delight and a great example of Moyle’s philosophy of less is more. Bigger dishes, like the barbecued duck come banquet style, with greens, condiments and flatbread. The confines will surely prove a big motivator for return visits. Festooned with a sea of flickering paper lantern-style lighting, the loft-like, 250-capacity space features huge proportions, exposed ceilings and original brick flooring from its roots as a circa-1900 horse stable. Vast concertina windows open out on Little Bourke Street, inviting the outside in and exposing the colour of the laneways below and the city lights beyond in what might just be Melbourne’s most blush-inducingly handsome venue.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: NYC warehouse lofts eat your heart out; Flickering paper lantern-style lighting sets the mood; Longsong offers an extensive list of wines by the glass; Wood-fired food comes courtesy of chef David Moyle; Cocktails are given an...