Hot and sour is a set of contrasting flavours that speak to elegant balance requiring excellent execution. Hot and cold refers to contradicting aspects that provide both the highs and lows in the same breath.
A perfectionist would shake at the thought of opening a big ticket restaurant, in a new big ticket hotel, in a city that can break even the most successful magnate. In this case the magnate is of the culinary variety. David Thompson is surely the most well-known Australian chef that has made Thai his own. He has a long history, and has been overseas for a long time, but I am interested in the present.
Long Chim is David’s first Australian venture in many, many years. It is set in the renovated Old Treasury Buildings which also house the COMO Hotel. This is a development where the paint is barely dry. Walking down into the basement restaurant, that actually has two indoor rooms, and an outdoor courtyard, you get a good idea of the dollars spent on this project.
Nothing has been left to chance. While it is tight for room, it is not uncomfortable once seated, and there is enough table space for the food and wine to come. The only sour aspect to begin was being reminded for the third time (in addition to at the time of booking, and earlier today on the confirmation call) that we needed to be out in one and a half hours. I thought it was a bit crass in front of my guests when I had myself already mentioned this (such was the care taken to inform me in the lead up to dining).
If you or your guests are susceptible to spicy food, it is important to discuss this when ordering. While only three dishes are marked “spicy”, this is traditional Thai and there is still spice in everything, many times in spades. For example, the fish cakes we began with were absolutely delicious, but they themselves were hot, and the small amounts of cucumber, and fried Thai herbs, did not dull the effect. You would need a high threshold for heat to add the extra chilli.
On the other hand, the next dish, to begin mains, was an extraordinarily beautiful stir fried Siamese watercress with peanuts that perpetuated balance between just a few fantastic showcase ingredients. It was not hot at all. Only a touch of spice was found in the green chicken curry, along with a huge amount of flavour. There is not a huge amount of chicken, but it is tender, and the sauce can be used to enhance any amount of leftover rice long after the chicken is gone.
The red duck curry had a couple of notches more heat, but not in an uncomfortable way. Again there was a lack of duck. It was delicious gamey duck, and not outrageously expensive, but I would rather pay another few dollars and get a bit more. The pad Thai closed out our mains and little did we know the punch this dish would pack. It was not needed and took a touch away from the perfect handmade noodles and the quality of the other ingredients. It was still very good but half the table couldn’t have any more than a taste.
The food is why we are here and certainly was a high point. It would be unfair to say service is a low point, but the floorstaff tonight (on a Monday) are stretched thin. Our particular waitperson is friendly, and when asked questions knows the answer, but lacks some confidence, and probably some of her own dining experience on how to be attentive and how to time certain aspects.
Without dwelling on the low points of our experience, there were a couple of good examples. Having been told three times about the time restriction, we didn’t start receiving mains until 55 minutes into our 90 minute allocation, with no explanation. They were not cleared quickly when we finished either. Then with 15 minutes left we asked for the remainder of our wine to be poured. We were told there wasn’t much left and would we like another bottle. That doesn’t make much sense to me.
It was at this point when we were asked whether we would like dessert menus that I decided if the staff have forgotten about our timing, then so would I. We had a look at dessert and ordered two dishes between the four of us. Both the Thai coffee ice cream, and the coconut cake, were worth staying for. Both lived up to the rest of the food; the moist coconut cake bursting with coconut; the ice cream revealing strong almost bitter coffee, dulled by sweet condensed milk.
I had an espresso with dessert and it was a good quality, adding to another high point in what was a hot and cold ride. The coldest part of the experience was the air-conditioner, which the restaurant just couldn’t seem to balance like the chefs could with their flavours. Given everyone was dining without jackets, many in short sleeves, it was far too cold in the basement.
The enormity of the operation could be openly seen over the course of a couple hours. So many customers, staff, chefs, and an Asian restaurant probably unmatched in the city. This will be a success for some time, but it will only become an institution if several features are enhanced soon.