Longhorn Saloon

Restaurants Carlton
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 (Photograph: Graham Denholm)
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Photograph: Graham Denholm

The Le Bon Ton boys have hit another home-run with this deli by day, high-falutin’ smokehouse bar by night

Pitch up to 118 Elgin Street during the day and you’ll find a bewilderingly big, copper-walled dining room. You’ll notice the glittering oyster bar – pause to admire the giant-clawed lobsters and crabs – then the sandwich station, where chefs rustle up doorstep-sized Reubens, turkey bagels and bratwurst. The space is cavernous, the ornate walls glow salmon-gold, and you can expect a side of rock’n’roll with your pickles. This is Five Points Deli.

You’ll also see a staircase beckoning by the back. Arrive by night and ascend that staircase to Longhorn Saloon, and you’ll find something very different: a nocturnal den worthy of a Bugsy Malone cream-pie shootout. We’re talking exposed brick, flickering candles, dark nooks designed for sinning and a toffee-coloured, low-lit, log-panelled dining room where wood-grilled steak reigns supreme. The soundtrack hops from O Brother Where Art Thou-style hillbilly yodelling to Ray Charles to Johnny Cash. Nobody would bat an eyelid if bearded banjo players bounded from the kitchen.

If it looks and smells and sounds a lot like Collingwood's favourite 3am absinthe-and-meat treat, Le Bon Ton, that’s because it’s also owned by the Balleau brothers (taco temple Chingon in Richmond completes their triumvirate). This time, sister Katie has come along for the ride, too.

The Balleaus’ New Mexico upbringing is reflected in Longhorn Saloon’s name – a nod to the first bar back home that they got boozy in – and its refined East Coast smokehouse menu. Don’t expect sticky wings, ribs or cheap beer (on-tap brews start at $10 a glass).

Here’s what you’re paying for. Firstly, brilliant bartenders. Let Sarah Wongstein mix you an off-menu sbagliato. The name means “mistaken”, but the cocktail’s anything but: a fruity, bittersweet riff on the Negroni that substitutes sparkling white wine for gin. If you want to be fanboy about things, make like the Balleaus and order a lemon-sherbet Lawrenceburg Lemonade: a spin on Lynchburg Lemonade that swaps Jack Daniel’s for Maker’s Mark (the siblings prefer its smoky taste).

Food is equally refined. Take the succulent Flat Rusty Wire oysters, as big as 50-cent pieces and served with a generous array of extras: lemon cheeks, shallot mignonette, hot sauce and horseradish. Pork and pistachio terrine is crowned by a silky quenelle of chicken parfait, its double-whammy of richness undercut by pickled beetroot and carrot discs, with helpful bits of (slightly burnt) bagel to mop things up on the side.

When you’re ready for your steak, swap cocktails for wine. Match your meat (sourced from three Australian suppliers and wood-grilled to perfection by Nick Stanton, ex-Nieuw Amsterdam) with a full-bodied European that doesn’t stint on tannins – the malbec from Mendoza, for example.

When it comes to sides, go hard or go home. Iceberg lettuce with a thin blue-cheese dressing and bacon crisps is a strategic choice: the blue cheese chats up our New York Strip steak nicely. You’ll also want some garlic butter-slathered Syracuse salt spuds, but bypass broccoli with anchovy and toasted almonds – our broc arrives burnt and bitter.

Brilliant bartenders aside, service from the waiters is a bit hit and miss: our steak sauces never materialise and we’re met with a frosty silence when we decline dessert. Then again, it really wouldn’t surprise us if the word ‘no’ is virtually unheard of here – and over all, we say a resounding ‘yes’.

By: Sarah Jappy

Posted:

Venue name: Longhorn Saloon
Contact:
Address: 118 Elgin St
Carlton
3053
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 5pm-late.
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