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Despite its excellent food and a stellar reputation, I only had bad associations with Longrain (44 Lt Bourke Street, Melbourne). Let's just say both of my previous visits had to do with the same former boyfriend and, well, it didn't turn out well. So it was with some trepidation that I attended a birthday dinner at Longrain last week. Continually swirling in the back of my mind was the phrase, 'Third time lucky!'

Thankfully (touch wood), the evening was pleasant and trouble-free.

Arriving early, I fixed my face (well, as much as possible) in the small but stylish and immaculate ladies' room, and sat in the bar area to await my friends. Several times I was politely asked by staff if I had a drink on the way: the service so good, it was almost annoying! When everyone had arrived, we were shown to the round table at the front of the restaurant, nearest the window. It has a built-in Lazy Susan - you know, that spinning round thing so you can share the food more easily? I always forget which girl's name it has. There are far too many old-fashioned girls around: Bloody Mary, Plain Jane, Raggedy Ann... I digress.

Our view of Lt Bourke Street

Longrain has an odd layout. It's very tiled and open and cold-feeling, yet there are several very long, wooden, communal tables running down one side, attractive and warm in juxtaposition. A few large round tables, a handful of low small tables, the bar/waiting area, and a huge jutting-out bar/service area complete the space. It's classy and impressive, but piecey, and I personally feel a bit lost whenever I'm there.

After much discussion and deliberation, the all-important selection of cocktails, and mucking around with poor Lazy Susan (she didn't get to be all that lazy that night, I tell you), we finally decided to go with the banquet dining option, at $65 a head. It took so much deliberation because - wisely on the part of Longrain, or annoyingly, or both - you may only order the banquet if the whole table takes part. We had nine in our party, and two were a bit broke that night and not planning to stay late, so they ended up leaving almost straightaway and the remaining seven of us had the banquet. Again, it all felt a bit disjointed.

Espresso martini

Despite the confusion of how/what to order, organising drinks, and who was staying or going, everything was handled superbly by the ultra-professional staff. We had two waiters throughout the evening, both very smooth and obliging, but able to have a playful laugh. 'It makes it all so much more enjoyable, don't you think?' (Pick the movie line, ladies...)

When the food started coming out (quite quickly, happily), I was so glad we'd gone with the banquet option. It was all divine, and well worth the $65 per head - in fact, a bargain! We had so much food, we could have taken home leftovers - and I was quite prepared to, but for the fact we were going out for more drinks afterwards and I'd have had to carry them home. (Wise decision, in the end.)

We started with lovely fresh oysters with gutsy Asian flavours, which sadly I forgot to take a photo of, and then trout, peanuts, herbs and bits wrapped in betel leaves.

Yummy stuff in betel leaves

Next was a pork, prawn and bean sprout salad that came enclosed in a spectacular egg net.

Pork, prawn, bean sprout salad...

... encased in an egg net

White and brown rice were served with the mains: duck curry and pork belly, with a side of Chinese broccoli.

Pork belly

Duck red curry

Chinese broccoli

I have no idea what the dessert actually was, but it involved tapioca and coconut, and it looked and tasted amazing. With it, we enjoyed a delicious, lightly sparkling moscato that I could have drunk all night.


Dessert wine - sparkling moscato

As we'd booked an early seating, we had to hurry out, but rather than kick us out completely, we were kindly welcomed to finish our drinks and conversation in the bar area until ready to leave.

Although I am not sold on the overall feel of Longrain, the amazing food and excellent service are - and should be - enough to keep it top of anyone's list of must-visit restaurants in Melbourne.

We stepped out into the late-night buzz of Lt Bourke Street and found a Chinese New Year lion dance happening in neighbouring Liverpool Street. This one was particularly cool because it cleverly took a mouthful of beer which it then spat out over the crowd (to shocked shrieks), and kicked and scattered a lettuce over more spectators as part of the dance.

Chinese New Year lion dance

I love this city.

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