It doesn’t seem that long ago when I went to a newly-opened restaurant called Longrain that was becoming known for making a then-little known drink in Sydney called the Caipiroska.
But that was over a decade ago and now Caipiroskas are made in bars and pubs across the land – and yet it’s still comforting to see this drink take pride of place at the top of Longrain’s cocktail list.
What has changed for Longrain, which is also known for its upmarket and modern take on Thai food, is that there’s now a spacious bar in the basement, which makes a nice change from the past when Longrain’s bar area was overshadowed by the dining space.
You walk down the stairs to find yourself in a raw subterranean space. There are exposed brick walls, wooden beams, yellow lighting, a DJ booth (this is a dance music, rather than indie, kind of a place) and camouflage banquettes.
I actually can’t stand the camouflage seating – what were they thinking? – but I love the rest of the décor. I’m here with the Amazonian Croatian, who defends the camouflage by saying that it blends in so much you don’t notice it – which is what camouflage is meant to do. I, however, spent my teenage years working in an army disposal store and associate camouflage with macho nutbags who watched one too many Rambo films.
But I’ll stop ranting about that, because both the service and cocktail list are great.
The Red Dragon ($17) is the standout cocktail here – it’s one of the most memorable I’ve had all year, even though it’s not the type of cocktail I normally like. Made with raspberries, crushed coriander root, chilli-infused 42 Below vodka, peach liqueur and cranberry juice, it packs a ridiculous amount of flavour. The coriander root and chilli, balanced by the fruit, are intense and jangle with each other rather than blend – but they jangle in a great way. We like it so much that we then order it again later.
We also order the Smoked Cherry and Chocolate Sour (Dewars whiskey, dark cherry liqueur, dash of Laphroaig whisky, lemon juice, chocolate bitters and egg white – $18). This is more subtle – the smokiness of the Laphroaig soaks into the drink – and it’s good for those who don’t like sweet drinks. I like it, but my taste buds are still blinded by the Red Dragon.
We then try the Pacific Pash (muddled pineapple and mint topped with Passionfruit 42 Below vodka, peach liqueur and lemon juice – $17), which is good and pretty much tastes as it sounds (no bad surprises, but it doesn’t blow us away) – but the Acapulco Gold ($17) does.
The Acapulco Gold is made with crushed chunks of lemon and lime combined with vanilla syrup, chilli-infused Cazadores tequila and lemonade and it’s awesome. I’m usually sceptical of chilli-infused alcohol in cocktails – they usually don’t work – but this and the Red Dragon proves me wrong this time. The lemonade also works well, making this drink fizz in your mouth.
When I’ve eaten at Longrain in the past I’ve loved the food but we’re here tonight because of my birthday, and when you’re as old as I am you don’t eat, you just drink to forget how old you are (although when I woke up the next day with a whopper of a hangover I felt even older – but that’s another story, and I blame the tequila shots … and whiskey … and beer … I may have had before and afterwards. Perhaps next year I’ll actually be wiser.)
However, in retrospect we probably should have ordered the betel leaves topped with prawn, peanuts, roasted coconut and ginger (the topped betel leaves are my favourite snack here); the oysters with red chilli, lime juice and deep fried eschalots as well as the whole baby snapper with nahm pla prik. Ah well.
Oddly enough, despite the camouflage and Thai food, this is a very inner-east Sydney bar – sleek, minimal and filled with pretty people (except for the old man writing this review) – but it still somehow feels comfortable. If they just got rid of the camouflage it would be ideal.
PS – the soundtrack for this review is Hazy Shade of Winter (I’m opting for the Bangle’s cover because I’m a child of the 80s, but the original Simon and Garfunkel song is a classic) in keeping with my bewildering sense of time flashing by:
Shortgrain Canteen and Longrain cocktail bar. 85 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills. Open every day until midnight. See the Longrain website
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate the Longrain bar?