Thursday, 30 May 2013

Grossi Florentino - L'amour est un oiseau rebelle

This is one of the few times that I am almost lost for words. What can be said about Grossi Florentino and its magnificent premises on Bourke Street that hasn't already been written or blogged about already. With outdoor seating hosting happy eaters and drinkers from both the Grill and the Cellar Bar, the two Grossi ventures on the ground floor of 80 Bourke Street, my booking for two for an extended "lunch meeting" takes us inside and "Upstairs" to be greeted by the front of house at Florentino.

Upon entering the dining room, you will notice the murals on the southern wall along with ornate finishes to the architecture in this dining area. Not be confused with the renaissance wing at the NSW Art Gallery, this is so much more. A space designed with the dining public in mind that I found effectively encouraged conversation, both voluntary and involuntary. Normally visual stimulation is one of the senses least evoked during a dining experience. Some venues rely on a magnificent view. Others confuse your senses by giving you periphery glances of the inter-workings of the kitchen. Grossi gives you murals that depict 16th century Florence in the time of Michaelangelo as an introduction to the epicurean journey and this you realise before you even sit down.

After consulting with front of house, service and the sommelier, we decided to take a "Leap of Faith" and order a modified degustation menu with extra dishes ($195/each) only because the option was available to make substitutions and also additions from the a la carte menu on demand. Usually such flexibility is not on offer in restaurants and as it was explained, all of the elements are available in the kitchen for the a la carte menu, so it would technically be no problem just to introduce small serves of said dishes into a special degustation menu. Bring it on I exclaimed.

As the table closest to us fiddled with their phones and one customer actually brought out his laptop to do some no doubt important work, our conversation consisted of culture whilst we waited for the 2011 Clemens Busch Riesling Kabinett to be served with the Smoked Petuna Ocean Trout. This dry German Riesling did not seem to be ready to drink from the bottle and came across quite young. However the trout and especially the yuzu along with the sweet flavours of tapioca and apple including Yarra Valley cavier actually made the wine taste better. All my senses were firing at this particular moment, especially my hearing as I had the pleasure of listening to mobile phones ringing at the other table. It makes me sad that some people bring such bad manners into restuarants.

One of my favourite foods was included as part of the unmolested tasting menu. Ladro Ravioli, a simple amount of the beautiful and delicate spanner crab inside a translucent ravioli served with pumpkin and watercress. The 2012 Ar Fion Field Blend brought the wine back home to the Yarra Valley. There was no Riesling in this blend as it is mainly Chardonnay, however the citrus taste that lingers on the palate did this dish justice. Not only visually appealing but the pair matched well and I was left wanting more of not only the ravioli, but the wine, which service was happy to provide quickly and efficiently.

The first of our venison dishes would soon arrive. A beautiful carpaccio with dwarf peaches, broad beans, thyme, chestnut flower honey and a Gorgonzola piccante. The dwarf peaches would be as amusing and tasty as the thinly sliced venison which was cooked to perfection. The sommelier took a big risk with this dish and matched it with a Bridge Road Brewers Red Ale. Yes, a beer. At first this pairing confused me but it worked very well with the flesh from the deer. I have visited the Bridge Road Brewers a few times and had never enjoyed their Red Ale, so this was not only a pleasant surprise, but also a winning dish, really highlighted by the dwarf peaches.

From the cold deep waters of the southern ocean, the Toothfish was captured, steamed and presented with spiced salt, onion cream, chickpeas, roasted fig, nashi pear and purslane. The purslane, which is an herb, really accompanied this extremely delicate and buttery fish well. The roasted fig was a nice touch and when the flesh was removed and consumed with a taste of the 2011 Lo Stesso Fiano, from Heathcote, Victoria, made for another winning food and wine match. I had never had Toothfish before and I really enjoyed it and how the kitchen not only prepared it but presented it. The taste of residual fruit from the wine went well with all of the elements and certainly brought the taste of the fish to the forefront of my palate.

I was grateful to be offered a "Gap Wine" which was actually a Sake. An infamous Sake actually that was paired with Heston Blumenthal's "Sound of the Sea" dish at the 2011 Ultimate Dinner at Rockpool in Sydney. Addiction to the 1999 Nakano BC "Chokyu" Koshu would have been very easy and before I slipped into a dark place which would have required me to disrobe and dance on the table after ingesting a couple of litres of this beauty, my latest love child appeared.

Flinders Island Wallaby Fillet, cured and seared with orange, a cauliflower caponata, marsala and a toasted rolled spelt. The first time I had the pleasure of passing the wallaby over my tongue was at Attica last December and I have been in love ever sense. It is great to be able to experience how so many of the talented chefs in Melbourne interpret this beast and the wonderful product sourced from Flinders Island Meats in Tasmania. The sherry, or marsala, really brought out the flavours of the wallaby and the orange was a taste that challenged my palate and left me thinking, discussing, wondering, contrasting and comparing. I really like what Guy Grossi has done with this marsupial and when matched with a 2011 Cashburn Pinot Noir from Central Otago, the tannins and oak inherent with the wine really made the wallaby shine.

Duck and Porcini Tortellini with candied pears was the follow-on to the sublime wallaby. Finally moving into wines from Italy, this one being a 2008 Malvirà Nebbiolo Langhe from Piedmont. The taste of fruit was evident, especially cherry which pairs with the duck quite well. I am a huge fan of Nebbiolo and was hoping it made its appearance sooner however service was happy to refill my glass which allowed me to make up for lost time. The duck tortellini had a wonderful texture and I was left very satisfied even known there was still more to come.

If the wallaby and duck wasn't enough to placate my greed to eat everything in the zoo, the venison made its appearance again. This time however a beautiful roast loin was presented with juniper berries and a thyme crust. Matched with a 2009 Cavallotto Barbera d'Alba, which although is an entry level priced Barolo normally, did not disappoint so it proves that you can not judge a wine simply on price. This is a classic Barolo and certainly added to the rich succulent taste of the venison, which came highly recommended from the front of house. They did not disappoint.

A small cheese cart made its way past our table carefully, much like the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant would navigate the Melbourne CBD. The highlight of the offerings available on the cart for me was the classic cheddar and when paired with the 2007 Tamellini Recioto di Soave was a nice palate cleanser and made the forthcoming Valrhona Chocolate Souffle with malt ice cream even more explosive. Rich and powerful yet refreshing and sweet, this is the Lachlan Murdoch of desserts. The 1985 Bodegas Toro Albala Montilla-Moriles Don PX Gran Reserva from Spain was another great match. The sweet chocolate intense flavours of this dessert wine really went well with the gorgeous souffle and especially the ice cream.

Besides some delays in kicking the degustation into gear and at times running out of alcohol and having to ask for more, I found service very pleasant, engaging and willing to please. The sommelier took a big risk by injecting a beer into a wine degustation and it worked well. I love risk taking as long as it does not involve a moving tram so between the lonely beer and the wallaby served with orange, a very positive impression was left from my extending dining experience at Grossi's flagship. It had been a year since my previous visit and both times I saw Guy Grossi working in the restaurant. In this epoch of the celebrity chef, seeing them in their own habitat is as rare as spotting the black panther, so it was good to know that the man himself was at the helm.

Grossi Florentino was awarded one chef's hat in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide.

Grossi Florentino, Bourke Street, Melbourne
Grossi Florentino
80 Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 1811
My Rating: 15.75/20
Service: 3.75/5
Ambiance: 4.25/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.75/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 78% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Grossi Florentino.

Grossi Florentino on Urbanspoon