2 November 2010
Merchant @ Rialto 495 Collins Street Melbourne 3000
Guy Grossi is a Melbourne icon who requires no introduction.  Since Grossi took the reins in 1999, The Florentino has blossomed into one of Melbourne's premier fine dining institutions.  Indeed, it is regarded as one of the best Italian restaurants in the country and, in this reviewer's opinion, is second only to the venerable Buon Ricordo in Sydney.  As a result, the opening of Grossi's new restaurant, Merchant, at the foot of the Intercontinental Hotel adjacent to the Rialto was keenly anticipated by not only the multitude of office workers in the Rialto but by the fine dining market generally.

Merchant occupies a surprisingly cavernous space on the ground floor of the Intercontinental Hotel with a relaxed, albeit somewhat cold, atmosphere.  The dining room is furnished with an eclectic collection of metal and wooden furniture with seating arrangements comprising an odd mixture of countertops and stools and traditional tables and chairs. 

Service during our visit was friendly and efficient but the dishes did take over 40 minutes to arrive - understandable given that we visited on their second day of opening.  Thankfully, any teething problems in the kitchen seem to have been ironed out as dishes were very promptly delivered on subsequent visits.

We ordered three dishes to share - a decent amount of food for two people and, for under $60, fairly reasonable value.  The first of our dishes was a squid ink risotto that was, as expected from a Grossi restaurant, superbly executed.  The rice in the risotto was puffy and al-dente and, coupled with generous amounts of tender squid pieces and a jet black squid ink broth, had a wonderful depth of flavour.  Unlike other squid ink risottos I've had, Merchant's version does not contain an underlying unpleasant fishy note but instead hints of fresh seafood with a robust undercurrent of what I suspect is a deft grating of parmesan.  The risotto was clearly the highlight of our lunch.  The other two items were also enjoyable.  The char grilled pork sausages had the unmistakable char grilled aroma but were also succulent and rich.  The gnocchi with spiced veal ragu was a simple dish, let down perhaps by gnocchi that was a touch soft for my liking, but had an interesting aniseed note in the tart tomato based ragu.

Unfortunately, an otherwise pleasant experience was somewhat soured by waitstaff who, during our visit, offered their house aperitif, a Bellini consisting of sparkling wine and peach puree, for us to "try".  We incorrectly assumed that these drinks were complimentary, as had a number of other diners, and so we were naturally surprised when we were charged $15 for each drink.  In my view, a restaurant should leave no ambiguity when it comes to the amount that it charges diners for its food and drink and this is particularly the case when a restaurant is new and is attempting to win favour with potential regulars.  On this occasion, the tactics employed by Merchant are, at best, discourteous and, at worst, deceptive and dishonest.  Of course, a customer can always inquire as to the cost of an offering, but, this often comes at the expense of appearing miserly.

Overall, our first lunch at Merchant was a favourable experience.  Merchant is a place that I will return to for its reasonably priced quality food.  I will, however, be a little more circumspect next time I'm offered anything to "try" at Merchant.

Food: 6.5
Service: 6
Value: 7
Overall: 6.5


Merchant on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Good post, I've been waiting for some info/views on this new venue...looks like you guys are the first ones to come through with the goods!

All in all, pretty nice location, the lighting and atmosphere of the venue is warm and inviting, but the appearance and feel of furnishings are cold and detached (literally and metaphorically)...a strange contradiction to say the least. The music which is constantly blaring through their cheap speakers is rather annoying as well.

The serves were also on the small side, 3 mains for 2 people appears to be an accurate view on what it would take to fill you up.

Anonymous said...

Its location says "upper class dining institution"

Its dining room ambience says "classy yet relaxed"

Its doorstaff attempting to say 'Buon giorno' to every guest says "authentic Italian" (or I want to appear to be authentic Italian)

Its name says "old school Italian" (but is probably more reflective of the fact that most of its clientele are business types)

Its plates say "homely Italian"

Its food says "pretty good Italian"

Its furnishings say "Ikea"

Its music says "warbling chipmunk in heat with a loudspeaker meets Austin Powers movie"

BC said...

Thanks for your comments!

Sounds like Merchant's atmosphere hasn't won too many fans in its first few weeks of operation ...

Anonymous said...

It just needs to become the haunt of some old-school wise guys; think Tommy DeVito being asked to fetch his shine box for some real ambience.

Anonymous said...

Your comment regarding Guy Grossi's aquisition of the Flo is incorrect. The Florentino blossomed with ownership of the wonderful families that steered this unique gastrominical icon to higher levels of international acclaim.

Guy Grossi and his rare talent must elevate the Flo to the level of Sydney's Quay and perhaps adopt the quiet dignity of their chef.

BC said...

Thanks for your comment! The Florentino was indeed already a gastronomical icon at the time Guy Grossi took the reins. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that Guy Grossi has, during his time at the helm of Grossi Florentino, maintained the lofty culinary standards set by his predecessors.

That being said, I subjectively prefer the food at Grossi Florentino to the food at Quay, notwithstanding that Quay's five textures of southern rock lobster ranks amongst my all time favourite dishes. I found the food at Grossi Florentino to be more down to earth and ultimately more flavoursome. As for Guy Grossi's relative lack of quiet dignity when compared with Peter Gilmore, I must say that I do prefer the latter's approach.

Libby said...

I may be going here for dinner tomorrow so I'm glad I stumbled across your review. The food looks reasonable enough to feed two people who are usually big eaters, yet aiming to get smaller portions in a desperate attempt to develop better eating habits :)

BC said...

If you're looking to keep the dish count low, it's worth sticking to the pastas or risottos. Having been there a number of times now, courtesy of working in the adjacent Rialto, I can say from experience that the main dishes are fairly small. Other dishes worth trying include the bigoli with duck ragu and the risotto with zucchini flowers. Hope you enjoy your dinner!

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