Longrain @ 44 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
9 March 2011
As part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Longrain recently hosted Zakary Pelaccio for a multi-course Malaysian inspired banquet. It provided an exciting opportunity to sample the cuisine of one of New York’s hottest talents and was, for my money, the most interesting of the events at this year’s festival – the dinner with Elena Arzak at The Press Club, the other event to take my fancy, was unfortunately not going to be cooked by Arzak herself. The fact that this particular event was hosted at Longrain also helped matters – to me, Longrain is the equal of the similarly themed Gingerboy.
Still, this event was designed to showcase the food of Pelaccio’s Fatty Crab. In New York, a city dominated by traditional French and Italian fare, Fatty Crab has distinguished itself by offering South East Asian cuisine in an informal and relaxed setting – in a manner similar to the tremendously successful Momofuku Ssam Bar. Fatty Crab’s relaxed setting, not dissimilar to one that may be found in Melbourne generally, refreshingly departs from the rigid, dress code-driven spaces that pervade the New York dining scene.
The cuisine at Fatty Crab, including popular South East Asian dishes such as chilli crab and nasi goreng, reflects Pelaccio’s gastronomic influences from having worked in kitchens in Malaysia and Thailand. However, what sets Pelaccio apart from most other chefs specialising in South East Asian fare is his classical training, underpinned by stints at The French Laundry with Thomas Keller and at Daniel with Daniel Boulud – powerhouse names in the world of gastronomy. The prospect of food that marries polished Western training with fiery Eastern flavours is, for me, a particularly exciting one.
Our meal proceeded as follows.
A betel leaf topped with soft shell crab and green mango.
Charcoal grilled yabbies with a fresh turmeric emulsion and preserved lemon
Smoked mackerel “nam prik” with local vegetables and crispy pork
Ocean trout with house made sausage, spring bay mussels and fermented tofu
Roasted local baby lamb with a cincalok, lemon and Nolan’s Road olive oil emulsion
Curry pot de crème with coconut glass biscuits
There was much to like about the meal. The classically Longrain betel leaf was, as always, a multitude of intense flavours and was highlighted on this occasion by the superbly crisp, savoury soft shell crab and the gentle tartness of the green mango. The ocean trout was masterfully cooked to showcase the delicate texture of the trout. Similarly the roasted baby lamb was expertly prepared and had juicy, succulent flesh. The only item which did not capture my imagination was the curry pot de crème – basically a curry custard. Although it was not completely unpleasant to eat, the flavour combination, particularly as a dessert item, seemed to be strained by comparison to the very natural complementary flavours showcased in the earlier dishes.
In the end, the evening was an enjoyable celebration of the common elements of Longrain and Fatty Crab – rich, flavoursome food in loud, bustling surrounds. I am still a little unsure of whether it was good value for money at $150 per head – although that amount also allowed for effectively unlimited glasses of 2010 Mount Horrocks Riesling and 2009 La Linea ‘Norteno’ Tempranillo – but as a one-off event, it was nevertheless worthwhile. That is despite the fact that, on a Wednesday evening, it did leave me a little worse for wear for work the next day. With the efflux of time, these sacrifices are more than worthwhile.
* As this was a special Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event, service and overall ratings cannot be provided.