Chef-restaurateur Scott Pickett has given Lisa and John Van Haandel's popular Thai-inspired stalwart Longrain a second lease on life, announcing that he is taking over the 15-year-old restaurant and will reopen it in just three weeks.
There was public outcry when the Van Haandel's announced in early May that they would not be reopening the restaurant. Pickett counted himself among the legion of fans saddened by the loss of a Melbourne icon. "I've always loved the restaurant, the building and the food," says Pickett, who is thrilled to be adding what he considers to be "an institution" to his already large stable of restaurants including Matilda 159, the Estelle, Lupo and Pastore at Chadstone Hotel.
Pickett says it has been an emotional two weeks getting to know the team, who after months of uncertainty have largely been hired back. He says they are all energised and ready to reopen on July 29 with two menus. The first will feature Longrain's signatures including the betel leaves, lamb panang curry and the filled egg nets.
Pickett concedes he is "far from an expert in Thai cooking", but says that he has learned through operating multiple venues that "I can't do everything myself, and that's why you have the right people." The right people in this case consist of Arté Assavakavinvong, Longrain's head chef of six years, as well as manager Natasha Firman who has been with the company for 15 years.
For what Pickett is calling the Longrain 2.0 menu, he has encouraged the kitchen team to design dishes from their home regions, to make use of some of the native Australian ingredients he utilises at his other restaurants. There might be a dry red curry of kangaroo with wild ginger and macadamia, fish cakes made with Moreton bay bugs wrapped in crisp bean curd or spanner crab with flavours of green curry served with roti as a reference to the star dish at Matilda.
Inability to come to terms over the lease was cited by Lisa Van Haandel as one, but not the sole reason, for their decision to call time. But Pickett says he has found great support, and has secured a 20-year lease for both Longrain and the equally spacious Longsong upstairs.
"I'm a risk taker, and it's a big risk in this climate," Pickett said, noting the low foot traffic in the CBD. He is hoping the venue's large footprint, loyal clientele, and an offering of an at-home menu will help the business thrive.
Until restrictions relax, Longrain will encourage bookings, and will offer the signature or deluxe banquets for $65 or $95. Pickett says he has no qualms in asking guests to commit to their booking with credit card details. "We implemented that system three years ago for our venues," says Pickett, who says it has resulted in a large drop of no-shows and should become industry practice.
Lisa Van Haandel says of the handover, "we pass the baton confident our baby is in good hands."
Longrain 2.0 will open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday and lunch on Fridays from July 29 (pending restriction changes) at 44 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, longrainmelbourne.com