In May we reported that modern Thai restaurant Longrain was closing permanently after 15 years on Little Bourke Street, following “unresolved lease issues” in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
It was one of the most high-profile Australian restaurant casualties of Covid-19, but it’s just been thrown a lifeline.
“When I heard [about the closure] I was fucking gutted,” says Pickett, who was pulling 16-hour days to keep his own restaurants afloat at the time. But it wasn’t long before he was in talks with John van Haandel, who owned Longrain with his wife Lisa van Haandel, about saving the much-loved venue. “We went for a walk around the Tan – where all good decisions are made,” he says.
It’s clear Pickett’s itching with excitement when he speaks to Broadsheet. He recently signed a 20-year lease. “It’s an iconic Melbourne restaurant … and I wanted to do my part to keep its legacy alive,” he says.
Save for some minor cosmetic updates, “the whole feel of Longrain won’t change much at all”, he says. “The restaurant’s not broken – we don’t have to fix it.”
He’s also been able to re-employ around 60 staff, including well-versed management, kitchen and front-of-house workers – some of whom have been at Longrain for a decade.
“It’s been a really emotional week,” Pickett says. “Seeing smiles on the faces of so many staff who thought the restaurant was gone and they didn’t have a job has been incredible.”
Thai is a new cuisine for Pickett, so he's been working with chef Arté Assavakavinvong and the original kitchen team to develop two new banquets. “And I’ve been reading David Thomson’s bible, Thai Food, obsessively.”
The menu will be banquet-only for now. One option will centre on classic Longrain dishes such as the seared scallop in betel leaf; the prawn-filled egg net with bean shoots; and the duck egg in caramel custard. The other will feature new dishes, made in Longrain’s style but “with a native touch”, such as red kangaroo curry with wild ginger and macadamia; slow-cooked lamb rib with fermented red soybean and fried saltbush; and lon of spanner crab, a light coconut-y curry flavoured with lemongrass and seablite and served with house-made roti.
There’ll be room for 80 people across the downstairs dining room and upstairs bar Longsong, which will serve as an extension of Longrain until the coronavirus restrictions lift.
In light of Melbourne’s renewed stage-three lockdown, Longrain will no longer reopen this month. The team is working on a takeaway option, which will launch in the coming weeks.