I have known about Grossi Florentino for many years. At different stages it has been on my short list. I just had not made it there and now I’ve been in Melbourne for over five years and we finally have a booking. It is finally happening, but my enthusiasm is tempered with so much press, feedback, expectation (and/or lack thereof), and history.
In the lead-up, every time I start to get excited someone remarks “I’ve seen he is bad to staff”, “I’m sure it’s still good, but it was best in the 90s”, “It’s very expensive, for Italian” and other qualifying comments. It doesn’t help that unfortunately my previous experiences downstairs on the pavement for dinner and breakfast have been nothing close to writing home about. But enough of the lead-up.
My disclaimer on my review stems entirely from an abundance of beer at Flemington Racecourse for the March long-weekend’s Super Saturday event, featuring the Group 1 Australian Cup and Newmarket Handicap. If I am patchy on detail I apologise!
It wasn’t a good start on our behalf being seated at a table of 6 that we had booked, but there only being five of us. However, the ill-health (not beer related) of our friend, did mean that once one of the settings was removed we had a really good amount of table space. Upstairs has a lot of the qualities you expect from a “fine dining” establishment – a reasonable amount of space between tables, hushed noise levels, low lighting, and good quality settings – silverware, glass/stemware and linen.
With a good selection available from the a la carte menu and a prix fixe option of four courses for $120, our appetite demanded we go all out. My food and that of my friends was on a whole top class. The tension was between how much better “fine dining” Italian can actually be, and how can you improve on rustic dishes like a homemade pasta with ragu? It is this battle that was not won with authority. Undressing this tension and just reflecting on the meal is why I believe the food was still top class. Whether the price tag associated with the food was reasonable is a completely separate story.
The antipasti (from memory) consisted of olives, bread, crustini, and arancini, before an amuse of lentils. The antipasti was fine, but the lentils were pretty boring. I’ve had beans at breakfast that were vastly more exciting. The smoked ox tongue on the other hand was a magnificent entree. All of the flavours are well tried and worked beautifully.
It goes without saying that an Italian restaurant lives and dies by the quality of its pasta and the lamb parpadelle was delicious. It was high class and personally I couldn’t find a fault. The duck tortellini was also fantastic. Grossi was starting to come alive! Another hit was the main of veal cheek which was just as you would hope and expect – amazingly tender and full of flavour. Ending the meal with the Tartufo, which came in a chocolate ball filled with chocolate and hazelnut mouse with ricotta ice-cream, was my personal highlight and “wow” moment. I must go and try it again (a little more sober).
My friends had varying experiences but everyone enjoyed the meal. Their tuna crudo entree looked fresh, but it was too large a serving of raw tuna for the amount of accompaniments. I could see why they felt they were just eating an enormous piece of sashimi. Other than that nothing stuck in my mind other than good quality dishes, but mainly without the wow factor.
I need to mention the service. We were all very split on how we thought the night was from a service point of view. From my perspective everyone was professional and attentive. The sommelier was fine, the advice from the waitstaff was fine, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable at any point. However, for some reason they put our meals down in the wrong order every single course! I would have thought that after one occasion that it would be corrected but the whole theatre of fine dining was actually ruined by us having to correct the poor waitstaff who in majority were not responsible for taking our order. One of my friends doesn’t eat chilli too, and that request was honoured by the waitstaff, but somehow a miscommunication ended with that same friend being given chilli! Besides these instances, the floor staff were generally smooth and professional.
It’s funny because I still feel the same about Grossi as before I had been there. It is listed as #10 on the Australian Gourmet Traveller list for Melbourne and I can see why – it is great, but I can’t see how it will ever be up the top with innovators like McConnell, Ezard and Perry. One thing I will say is that it is a far better Italian experience than Rosetta (not that I disliked Perry’s place). It might be the changes that have been made (to try to be more innovative) but I also couldn’t feel the history of Grossi, one of Melbourne’s longest dining establishments.
All said, I had a terrific experience at Grossi Florentino. And I’ll be back again reasonably soon… for the Tartufo! Hold the espresso martini (this time!)