Once you get through the bumbling temporary-member sign in process of the RSL, walk towards the light at the very end of the lobby tunnel until you hit a dark and moody cave-like space that doesn't feel like an RSL at all. You'll notice a contemporary art installation (a fish to be exact) that hangs from the ceiling above a long, boat-shaped high-top communal table that commands the entire room, while boldly lit grey cement walls, an outdoor bamboo garden and bottle green vertical tiling will have a dramatic calming effect on your senses.
When seated, ask for Carmine. He's Italian and will take care of you from start to finish with some good old-fashioned friendly service. Once he's run you through the share-plate spiel, you'll find a decent drinks menu complete with cocktails and a one-page dinner menu boasting an array of Korean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian goodies.
If you start with the bao, skip the platter of all four flavours and just go for the fried chicken ($6) or the barbecue pork ($7). Both proteins are cooked well with delicious sauces to match. Unfortunately, the steamed bao buns are not made in-house, but they do the trick.
If spring rolls ($7) are your go-to, don't expect uniform presentation. Some are more golden in appearance, while others have a cracked casing, but don't let that put you off, because what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in taste with its moreish shiitake mushroom and cabbage filling, and thin and crispy outside.
You're spoiled for choice with the larger plates and prices are fairly reasonable, ranging from $18–$39. There's a decent selection of seafood dishes, too, for those not in the mood for the meatier options. If poultry is more your game, the yellow spiced fried Maryland pieces with turmeric, lemongrass and sambal ($18) is presented beautifully on the plate with Vietnamese rice crackers and spears of cucumber neatly stacked. The sambal has a decent hit of chilli, but the Maryland is deboned, so the juiciness can fluctuate between each piece.
There are also two curries to choose from and the red beef ($25) looks as though it stepped straight off the cover of a magazine. It's loaded with flavour, but leans toward the sweeter side. It's best mopped up with roti ($3), but again, it's not made in-house, which is disappointing considering head chef Freddie Salim is ex-Longrain, so opt for a bowl of steamed rice instead to soak up all the sauce — because, there's a lot of sauce. And if you're craving pho ($16), it's best to check with the restaurant ahead of time, because while it appears online, it seems to be a dish only served seasonally.
The lunch and dinner menus do differ, so don't get caught out. And if you're going for dinner, go earlier than later, because the restaurant empties around 8.30pm and it can get a little too quiet for comfort.
While the dining experience is sleeker than others in the area, it doesn't live up to the Longrain expectation, and when there's delicious cheap eats to be consumed just around the corner in Campsie and Ashfield, it's hard to justify some of the heftier price tags.