Many of us remember the hype that surrounded Longrain when it opened more than a decade ago. It was one of Sydney’s hottest eating and drinking venues; a place difficult to get into and one of the first places to jump onto the communal table bandwagon as it trundled across the citys dining landscape, picking up those that were interested. Personally I loath the communal table concept, finding it intrusive and uncomfortable rather than being a “shared experience and meeting new aquaintances.” Each to their own.
The northwest corner of Surry Hills, the home to Longrain, has been an enclave for lifestyle design stores and warehouse loft apartments for some years now and when it shares the boundary with the CBD it has its mix of offices as well. If I was a wanky real estate agent I’d call it NoWeSu (North West Surry Hills) but I’m not so let’s hope Sydney never gets to the point of officially abbreviating its neighbourhoods.
The success of the brand saw Melbourne open its doors to a Longrain on the fringe of its Chinatown and as if that wasn’t enough for the empire, we now have the more recent Shortgrain tucked beneath its older Sydney sibling. This shorter sibling is smaller in size and provides fewer seats than what lays in the rooms upstairs and with décor that’s very NoWeSu (I had to say it) it’s all about militant industrial finishes with fab service and typically clean flavours that chef Martin Boetz is known for, only cheaper. It is a ‘canteen’ after all.
Being open only for lunch on Monday through to Friday it’s a little easier to get into and if you rock up at 11am you can pretty much claim most of the long table as your own. Martins take-home relishes and curry pastes grace the wall behind the canteen counter beneath a chalk board offering a handful of lunch dishes to eat in or take away.
Several visits saw me perched up at the communal table (with views over the classic Hotel Hollywood) tucking into an early lunch before waddling off to work. Actually not waddling, more like reeking of garlic after eating the fluffy little fish dumplings (12). Wow, talk about a garlic bomb. As delicious as they are, eating these fish cake-like balls may have your collegue asking if you’ve been eating garlic, like mine did.
With our waning days of winter a hot and soupy or saucy dish is just what the doc ordered and what makes it better is when it’s sided with crispy fried chicken. I’m tossing up what I prefered with this split personality dish, the mild green curry sauce packed with green beans and basil or the juicy and crispy chicken (18)? Bugger it. They’re both great, especially taking the crispy chicken drumstick for a dunk and hoeing right in.
Two dishes that shared presentation styles were the braised duck (18) and the crispy pork belly (18). The duck wades in a bowl of heart warming and slightly sweet soy broth with sticks of fresh ginger, silky ribbons of rice noodles and Chinese broccoli with a side of rice. The pork had additional shiitake mushrooms (sans the noodles) and despite not being all that crispy it was sufficiently fatty, just like it should be. The broth is much the same as the one used with the duck and a generous addition of chilli sauce from the communal table condiments made for a sinus that could take no more of the hot stuff. This is one canteen worthy of repeat visits.