Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Longrain, Tokyo

What do you do, when you are in Tokyo, have eaten exclusively Japanese food for a week and a half (generally from convenience stores, street food stalls, or very authentic holes-in-the-wall), and you find out* that one of your favorite Thai restaurants from Sydney, Longrain (which I've reviewed before), has just opened a restaurant in Tokyo, literally only, three weeks prior, directly across the street from your hotel?

Yeah, you get a few friends, and you hightail it there.

*Ok, like I didn't know this was happening and it was a surprise.  I had been tracking the opening for months, and was delighted that it did happen before my arrival.
Thai Feast.
Three of us visited at about 6pm on a Sunday night, without reservations.  We were able to get a table, but the place filled up quickly, and we certainly did not have prime seating.  I do recommend making a booking, particularly if you want a view (more on that soon).

But the short version?  It was good.  A very different experience than the rest of my time in Tokyo, certainly not a local Tokyo thing, but, for me, who complains constantly about the lack of good thai cuisine in San Francisco, I was thrilled to get a chance to have one of my Sydney favorites, even if not in Sydney.  I'd return.

Setting

Longrain is located up on the 39th floor of the Yebisu Garden Place Tower.  There isn't much signage in the lobby, and the mixed use building didn't make it easy to find.  We finally just got in an elevator, unsure if we were going to wind up in an office.
Signage.
But as soon as we got out of the elevator, I recognized the signature green glow of the Longrain sign.  There were several other restaurants on this floor as well.
Stunning Bar.
The centerpiece of the restaurant was the bar.  It was, simply put, gorgeous.

It was huge, the lighting above it reminded me of the view of a city from afar, and it had ample seating.  Just like in Sydney, the cocktail program has as much attention as the food, and the assortment of liquor and mixers was large.

The bar was a constant source of action.
Tables.
Most people sat at tables however, as the cuisine is all designed for sharing.  Wooden tables, concrete walls, very modern, very swanky, very designed space.

Those with bookings had the seats along the windows, with absolutely incredible views out over Tokyo.

It felt somewhat like it was trying a bit hard, with loud music and a certain vibe going on, but, it worked.
Place Setting.
Tables were set with plates that had slightly sloped edges, that looked nice, but, were form over function.  They caused my different dishes to all slide into each other and mix together, which I do not think was by design.

Fork and spoon, no knives, no chopsticks.

Since everything is designed to share, serving utensils were brought with every dish, and our individual plates and utensils were changed out between courses.

Each diner also had a Longrain branded wet wipe waiting for them, embracing the local culture.

Service

The service started out great.  English speaking, english menus, very attentive.  One of my dining companions was struggling to cut something at one point, and a server swooped in with a knife out of no where.

But ... about halfway through our meal, that all changed.  Our server went MIA.  

It started out fairly innocent.  Our cocktails ran out, and we weren't offered a chance to order others.  Then our water ran out, and no refills were provided.  It got worse, as we finished our meal.

We sat with empty dishes, and dirty plates, in front of us for a very, very long time.  I couldn't find our server to flag him over.  Finally, I gestured at someone else, who brought us the bill.  I explained that we didn't want the bill, we wanted to order dessert.  

Once we did successfully order dessert, things picked up for a moment, our table was cleared, new dishes brought out, but then, it happened again.  Getting the bill, and then getting it settled, was more drama.

I think what happened is that we had the only English speaking server, and he had a normal section to cover of folks who made reservations, and they were all on the other side of the restaurant?  I'm not sure.  And they have only been open 3 weeks.  But, it was a very complete breakdown, quite disappointing.

Drinks

As I mentioned, the cocktail program was as exciting in Tokyo as in Sydney.
Drink Menu.
The drink menu had a large selection of beer, wine, classic cocktails, soft drinks (including house made lychee, passionfruit, elderflower, etc drinks), mocktails, and, fun cocktails.

My dining companion who does not drink alcohol was excited enough by the house made interesting soft drinks, but then amazed that he had so many non-alcoholic cocktails to pick from that sounded interesting, and not just sweet.

I too was overwhelmed, and would have gladly picked many of them.  I planned to order a second drink, but alas, we were never given that opportunity, so I only got a chance to try mine (and one other).
Gin Sin. ¥1100.
"Gin, lychee, ginger, kafr lime leaf, lemon."

I settled on the gin sin.

It was great, a nicely balanced drink.

The lychee was sweet, but the ginger and citrus balanced it out, and it was fairly heavy on the gin (in a good way), so it stayed refreshing, and not too sweet.

My drink came with a full lychee in it, slices of fresh ginger, a kafir lime leaf, and, uh, a clothespin on the side.

I really enjoyed the drink, appreciated how well designed it was, and it matched my mood perfectly.  Refreshing, interesting, and a nice compliment to the food.
Red Dragon. ¥1300.
"Chilli vodka, raspberries, peach cranberry."

One dining companion went for the Red Dragon, another drink I almost ordered, so I was thrilled when he offered me a sip.

This was very interesting.  The chili vodka was indeed spicy.  It had kick.  Serious kick.  But it also had plenty of muddled raspberries, and they were sweet.  It was a crazy combination, and it worked somehow.

I'm not sure I would have wanted to sip on this all night, but, for a few sips at the start of the meal, it certainly woke up the palette.

Dinner

And finally, the food.  The menu had many of the same items as Sydney, plus a few things I hadn't seen before.

Our food was all well prepared, flavorful, nicely presented.  Not as spicy as Sydney, but overall, very solid, and better than Thai cuisine in San Francisco.  I hope it does well in Tokyo.

Menus

Set Dinner. ¥5500.
The first page of the menu is a set menu, featuring all of Longrain's greatest hits, mostly the same as the menus I had in Sydney for large group dinners.

The signature betel leaf starter, a choice of two salads, choice of two meat mains, choice of three curries, stir fried greens, rice, choice of three desserts, and coffee/tea.

Everything I wanted was on that menu, but, we weren't that hungry, and I knew this would be a feast.  Still, if you want a thai banquet, this sounded great, and is a great value.
A La Carte.
We went a la carte, sharing all dishes (as recommended by the restaurant).  The menu was large and overwhelming, and we wanted it all.  Our decisions were made easier by the fact that many dishes are available in half-size, so we could order more things.

Starters / Salads

We skipped the appetizers, although I wanted to try the crispy tiger prawn with sweet chili, and the seafood spring rolls with corn, and I wanted my companions to try the signature miang kham, but as only 3 diners, we had to make hard choices, so we ruled out the starters.

Unless you consider a salad-like dish a starter?  Here again, I would have gladly ordered the jicama salad with chili coconut dressing, or even the papaya salad (it had been so long since I had a good one!), but I really wanted them to experience the eggnet, the other Longrain signature dish (and one I've really enjoyed before). {LINK}
Filled Eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, cucumber relish (half).  ¥1380.
When the dish hit the table, I was struck instantly by one thing.  The color.  It was much more brilliant orange than in Sydney.  Which makes sense, as I had been remarking on the color of the egg yolks at breakfast every single morning.  This was the first of the differences.

But it wasn't just the color that was different from the eggnet I enjoyed in Sydney so many times.  What was under it was quite different too.  Same ingredients, but, entirely different proportions.

It was mostly bean sprouts.  Very crisp, fresh bean sprouts, but, lots of sprouts.  There was barely any ground pork, and only two tiny prawns in our order.  A little bit of chopped peanut.  It didn't have nearly as much of the dressing, and didn't seem to have really soaked up any of the flavorful marinade I so loved.

The flavors were still good, and the cucumber relish on the side had a great level of acidity and spice to add in, but, this was very different from what I knew, and I was a bit worried about what this would mean for the rest of our meal.

It also had very large chunks of coriander, a theme that would continue throughout the meal, and was quite distracting.

The others, who didn't have strong expectations for the dish, thought it was fine, and "refreshing".  I was not thrilled though, and wouldn't order again.

We opted for the half size, which was perfect for 3 people, we all got enough, but weren't left with leftovers.

Mains

Picking the mains was very hard.  I had some classics from Sydney I wanted to try again.  My companions wanted some curries.  And then there were tons of seafood dishes that called out to me.  In the end, we picked 4 mains, 2 of which we could order half size.

The rest of our dishes were served all at once, with new plates.  
Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar (half). ¥1680.
The caramelised pork hock is another dish I knew from Sydney, and absolutely adored in the past.  It was my one pick for main that I wasn't willing to pass up.  Unlike the egg net however, this one lived up to my Sydney memories..


The chunks of pork hock were perfectly caramelized.  The edges so crispy, the fat perfectly melty.  Seriously, so good.  The sauce, a sweet caramel sauce, was crazy delicious.  Oooh, and the crispy shallot slices on top too?  Sooo good.

Minus a fraction of a point for tons of cilantro garnish, but, overall, this was fantastic, sweet, a bit spicy, great textures, and just oh so good.  My favorite dish.
Peanut curry beef shin, long red peppers and Thai basil (half). ¥1800.
The others really wanted a curry, and selected the peanut curry beef shin.  It was fine, but I'm not really one for curries, so I only had a few bites.
Whole crispy fried snapper, tamarind, chilli, lime. ¥4800.
One diner really wanted the crispy fried snapper.  Not my top choice of seafood, but still more interesting than most, so, I was happy to go along with this one.

It was a fairly standard preparation, pieces of the snapper, battered, fried, and then stuffed back into the body.  Garnished with (guess what?) cilantro, and thin shreds of some kind of chili.

It wasn't crispy exactly, but the batter was light, the fish mild and moist.  I liked the flavors in the sauce, a mix of tamarind, spicy chilies, lime, and more.

The face did have a fair amount of meat left in it, and I had a fun time digging out the even more flavorful and moist bits from the cheek.  It did make me laugh though ... it wasn't that many years ago that I was entirely unfamiliar with eating fish cheeks, much less digging them out of a carcass myself.

Overall, well executed, fine, but not much different from a crispy fried fish anywhere.
Stir fried Asian greens, garlic, oyster sauce.  ¥1800. 
I wanted to have some vegetables (2 weeks straights of crazy epic breakfast buffets and constant dining out was catching up with me), so I ordered the kinda boring sounding stir fried asian greens, although I could tell my dining companions kinda questioned this.

I knew something they didn't though.  I knew that I had really liked this dish in Sydney.

The greens were a mix of some leafy bitter green and pea pods.  All were cooked perfectly, not mushy, but I adored the pea pods.  Really crisp, really fresh.  Yes, I'm raving about pea pods.

The light oyster (and soy?) sauce made the dish a bit more interesting.

Overall very good, although obviously very simple.  This one wasn't available in half size, so we got the full portion.
Thai jasmine rice. ¥500.
I didn't try the rice, which we added on to go along with the curry.


Dessert

And then ... dessert.  My favorite part of a meal.  We worked hard to get dessert, given how long it took, and how many tries, to get a server to bring us a dessert menu.
Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu had so many great choices.  The "Layered Longrain special" sounded a lot like the dessert always included in the group menu in Sydney, the one I always rave about.  But then there was a taro pudding based dessert (I love pudding! I love taro!), a sampler platter with pandan cream puffs (pandan!), and another with fresh figs (figs!)

I was glad to be there with two others, thinking we'd share a bunch of desserts, except they both broke the news that they weren't really hungry and didn't want much, if anything.  Still, we got two.
Taro pudding, sweet coconut cream, praline cashew nut ice cream. ¥1600.
Taro.  Pudding.  Cream.  Praline.  Ice Cream.  So many things I love.  I had to get this.

It wasn't ... quite what I was expecting.  First, the pudding.  Not a custard style pudding, rather more like the British meaning of pudding.  A ... cake?  A thick cake, decent taro flavor, but still, cake.

I liked the coconut cream drizzled over it, since I like coconut cream, but that still didn't change the fact that it was cake, not pudding.

I did really like the praline cashew nut ice cream.  It was creamy, loaded with bits of sweet caramelized praline.  Creamy, sweet, crunchy.  Hard to go wrong.

On top, taro chips.

I was let down by this dessert, since it wasn't what I had in mind, and I don't like cakes, but the ice cream was nice at least.
Layered Longrain special Black sticky rice, coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit. ¥1000.
The second dessert was the signature special dessert, one that always changes slightly, but has black sticky rice at the base, vanilla tapioca, coconut jelly, whipped cream, and coconut shreds.

This was just as good as Sydney versions, although, we didn't really find any fruit.  I think it may have been melon, and they left it out due to my allergy? Melon was all over the dinner and bar menu.

The vanilla tapioca was creamy, there was tons of great coconut flavors in the jelly and cream, the coconut shreds provided a nice crunch.  Good flavors, good textures.  I didn't care for the black sticky rice, but I think I just wasn't in the mood.

Overall, good, and I was glad to polish this, and the ice cream from the taro dish, off once my companions had their 2-3 bites.
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