Grossi Florentino @ 80 Bourke Street, Melbourne
7 February 2011
At the apex of the Grossi restaurant hierarchy sits Grossi Florentino, a restaurant with a proud reputation forged over almost a century of operation. Consistently enjoying massive success, Grossi Florentino is widely regarded as the finest Italian restaurant in Melbourne. It is an “institution” in every sense of the word and a true colossus of the Melbourne fine dining scene.
On our last visit, we did not have the fortune of enjoying Grossi Florentino’s famed “Mural Room”. An administrative error resigned us to a window table at The Grill downstairs instead, albeit with complimentary glasses of champagne for our troubles. The dominant memory from that occasion though was not of our misfortune but of the remarkably high quality food – it is that memory that spurred our return.
The “Mural Room” provides an extraordinary contrast to The Grill. It is an opulent dining room of an older age, notable for its heavy use of warm hues, polished timber finishes and exquisitely detailed murals; it is a room that evokes a sense of privilege and hierarchical order. Where The Grill is manically busy the restaurant upstairs is serenely tranquil.
The difference in service standards is also significant. The appreciably higher waiter to patron ratio ensured that each table could be diligently attended to and the waiters themselves appeared to be Grossi’s finest; each highly personable, knowledgeable and conspicuously deliberate and purposeful in carrying out his duties. On the evidence of this visit, it appears that Grossi Florentino provides a level of service that no other restaurant in Melbourne even remotely approaches.
We began our Grossi Florentino culinary journey with an amuse bouche of chicken terrine served with quail egg and chicken skin. It was a rather inauspicious start; the terrine itself was good but generally unremarkable and the chicken skin was limp and slightly tacky.
The first entree of Fremantle octopus with young vegetable “giardiniera”, goat’s cheese croquette and Ortiz anchovies was more reminiscent of the quality that we had experienced on our previous visit. The octopus pieces were decadently tender with excellent bite and had an invitingly fresh seafood flavour. The croquette, wonderfully crisp, combined with the anchovies to provide salinity to the dish while the medley of pickled young vegetables ensured that the dish had requisite balance.
Similarly the second entree of fried zucchini flowers, stuffed with olives, goat’s cheese and mint, and served with pumpkin ‘caponata’, white asparagus shavings and pumpkin jus was an excellent dish. The batter encasing the zucchini flower was ethereally light and very crisp while the stuffing was rich and flavoursome. Combined with the sweet caponata – a cooked pumpkin salad – the dish was a delight to eat.
Our third entree was perhaps the best of the evening; it was a pine needle smoked quail served with minted fregola, agresto, pine nut oil, toasted pine nuts and a slither of jamon. The quail was exceedingly silky – not dissimilar to the former Good Food Guide dish of the year, Momo’s “veiled quail” - and did not have the fibrous texture often associated with poorly prepared quail. It was also, for my tastes, perfectly seasoned with the natural gaminess of the quail showcased along with the delicate smokiness from the pine needles, the fragrance of the minted fregola – a couscous-like pasta – and the aroma of the agresto.
A crab ravioli with nettle veloute and cherry tomato followed the quail. Beneath the layer of superbly cooked pasta were soft shreds of sweet blue swimmer crab. The partly cooked cherry tomato and veloute provided fresh flavours to complement the delicious crab meat.
The first of our main courses consisted of a Yarra Valley saddleback suckling pig roast with fresh peas and an apple cider reduction. The succulent pork was superbly cooked with the adorning strip of fat providing an additional indulgent burst of pork flavour. The apple cider reduction had a delightful fruity sweetness to accompany the pork and had an interesting spicy note which enlivened the relatively heavy dish. The suckling pig was a superb first main course that was, perhaps, partially undermined by the conspicuous absence of crackling.
Our second and final main course of slow cooked wagyu rump cap with pickled veal tongue, shallot and potato "saltate", fennel and rosemary praline and salsa verde – a dish that was the clear highlight of our previous visit –met our expectations admirably. The accompaniments to the wagyu were each remarkably delicious – the crispy fried shallot and potato "saltate" cubes were perfectly seasoned and wonderfully flavoured and the pickled veal tongue provided a thoroughly enjoyable slow cooked texture and subtle beefiness. However, the true highlight of the dish was the slice of wagyu beef – a light searing ensured that it was lined with a thin crisp layer packed with caramelised beef flavour. The meat was intense with characteristic wagyu notes and a deep earthy richness and texturally it was sublime with a decadent melt in the mouth, almost buttery, consistency.
After the rollicking ride provided by the savoury courses, the first of our desserts arrived. Described as “cheese and grapes”, the dessert consisted of a sorbet that had a light cream cheese flavour, not unlike that of quality cheesecakes. With a sharp fruity grape reduction and fresh grapes, this dessert provided an excellent palate cleanser ahead of the final dessert to follow.
Our final course for the evening was a chocolate soufflé, served with malt ice cream and chocolate sauce. The soufflé was superbly cooked, perhaps a touch runnier than is customary, and was absolutely delicious. Grossi’s use of Valrhona chocolate, my personal favourite, ensured that the dessert had a depth of flavour unlike commonly served chocolate soufflés which are single dimensional. The soufflé was a decadent end to a decadent meal.
In many respects, Grossi Florentino is prohibitively expensive – our eight course tasting menu cost $195 per person. However, it does serve food that is clearly among Melbourne’s very best and it leads the way for service standards in Melbourne. This is certainly more than can be said for a number of other high end establishments.
Fiscal restraint is the only aspect that prevents me from visiting Grossi Florentino with pocket-emptying regularity. Given its cost, it typifies a special occasion restaurant. It delivers highly memorable, superbly executed cuisine and service with panache and precision. For that reason, it is, for an overall top tier dining experience in Melbourne, my most highly recommended restaurant.