Last night, Adam and I finally completed the Guy Grossi trinity. Starting with the humble Cellar Bar last year, we stopped by The Grill a month ago before gearing ourselves up for the main event: the Grossi Florentino dining room upstairs. The occasion was Adam’s 24th birthday and with no birthday wishes other than a nice meal with his misses, he decided to be sneaky by requesting a table at a prominent Melbourne institution that is as grand as the Doge’s palace, and with price tags to boot as well. After an extremely disappointing round of drinks at Spice Market before a much better session at Becco, we made our way up the spiral staircase to a plushy dining room … and a short Asian guy in a suit who jumped in front of us to, I guess, greet us. For some reason, this made me and Adam giggle and seeing Mr-Short-Asian stumble over his words and grab the wine list (also forgetting to set my napkin on my lap) made Adam laugh even harder. That was the last I saw of him.
A waitress gave us our wine list while another guy presented a pretty lavish spread of nibbles: assorted bread rolls, olive oil, marinated olives, butter (salted and unsalted butter pats appeared on separate bowls) and some of those awesome grissini that we had at The Grill.
It was extremely quiet at this stage, with only a few tables being occupied. I felt a bit self-conscious when I brought out the camera because the sound of my lens retracting seemed like it was echoing in the opulent dining room. I could almost see both Lorenzo de Medici and Giotto raise their eyebrows in amusement from their respective murals above us. When the dining room did finally fill up, we relaxed a little bit. At least, we wouldn’t have to speak in muted whispers anymore.
Prior to our entrees, we were given an amuse bouche “with compliments from Guy Grossi.” Two strips of fresh, raw Tasmanian salmon sat comfortably between a smidgen of olive oil and a mixture of breadcrumbs and pine nuts. The thing that looks like a dollop of wasabi is actually a cucumber sorbet which tasted both weird yet refreshingly delicious at the same time.
We ordered a selection of half a dozen freshly shucked oysters from Bateman’s Bay, home to a selection of artisan finished native oysters branded “Moonlight Flat Oysters” which are apparently the best in the country. We were originally just going to have two oysters each (at $5 each) but the waitress sweet-talked us into ordering six, so that we can sample three different varieties of Moonlight Flat Oysters. The main difference between these oysters and others is that these ones go through an extra step of refinement in that they are placed in refinement baisins where they are nurtured that much longer prior to shipment. This is why they are often richer in taste (due to the plankton and algae they eat while in refinement) and why they do not taste like the ocean. The flat Angasi oyster was the most unusual oyster I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying. For one thing, the shells were as flat as a scallop and the meat was very earthy, tender and subtly smokey. In contrast, the other two were much creamier and brinier though I felt that Clair de Lune Bouton, in this case, was a bit too briny and somewhat metallic-tasting for my liking. The tangy jamon and cucumber dressing and the lemon did, however, mask much of that saltiness.
My entree, the peppered scallop ravioli ($39) wasn’t the prettiest one out there but it did taste really good. Three large parcels, made with home-made pasta naturally, housed a large scallop, sweet and succulent. The trio rested upon a pea reduction which was sweet in contrast to the lemon, garlic and oil dressing that was drizzled over the ravioli. The ugly brown thing in the middle is a piece of foie gras, which absorbed much of the acidic lemon juice to bring out its wonderful rich flavour.
While my entree was good, Adam’ was better. He ordered the toasted flour fettuccine ($39), which is Grossi’s take on the ubiquitous fettuccine carbonara. Here, a freshly made batch of fettuccine was mingled with fresh ingredients such as proscuitto di parma, butter and pecorino cheese. It was then topped with a slow cooked egg which gave way and oozed out deliciously creamy egg yolk which you then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. A shaving of black truffles was then sprinkled over the top. Luxurious. Rich. Bad for my hips. Divine.
My main: Roasted Glenloth pigeon breast with a ravioli made out of pigeon leg ($52). Having only tried pigeon the Chinese way (five-spice power, salt and lemon, yo!), I was keen to see how the Italians would do it. In this case, it was served with a marsala, cardamom and liquorice powder sauce and served with white asparagus and couscous. It was intensely sweet and rich – perfect for the cold weather – but for some reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. I guess I’m just not a pigeon person…
They also gave me a bowl of water with a wedge of lemon in it because we’re supposed to use our fingers to eat the pigeon. At first, I ignored the waiter and proceeded to eat my pigeon using my knife and fork the PROPER way before realising that I really DID need to use my fingers to eat to the bits closer to the bone. I was too proud to grab my bird with my hands so I offered the rest of my mangled pigeons to Adam who proceeded to eat them with his hands like he would at a Chinese restaurant… ahhh bless that guy
In my opinion, Adam had the better main (darn him for getting better dishes!), a slowed cooked wagyu rump cap with pickled veal tongue and a shallot and potato saltate i.e. roasted rosemary potatoes ($55). The wagyu was divided into four manageable pieces, one which was given to me. The meat was cooked exactly how wagyu should be cooked, left on the grill for only a fraction of time leaving it still pink so that it would be extra tender and juicy to the touch. Delish. Unfortunately, I didn’t try any of the veal tongue but if you want to believe what Adam reckons, it tasted “very much like chicken liver.” Hmmm, right.
We didn’t need a side but at the time of ordering, we anticipated our dishes to be small so we ordered a serving of baked asparagus with fontina cheese ($12). While the dishes weren’t massive, they certainly filled us up because they were so rich. We did manage to finish the asparagus (which tasted okay, nothing special) but it was something that we could have done without.
Although we didn’t order any desserts (we were too full and none of the desserts looked appealing anyway) but we were given yet another “present” from Guy, a mini zuppa inglese which was actually quite good and made me regret not having enough room for a proper dessert but oh well…
Adam did, however, order a coffee because he “wanted to see what an $8 short macchiato would taste like.” I argued that they were probably normal Vittoria ones that probably didn’t taste any better than the ones he makes but he was insistent. Even though the coffee took forever to make, Adam had to admit that it was impressive. It was rich, iron-fisty and swirled lazily all over the mouth. Oh, and we got yet another set of goodies from Guy – some petit fours which Adam gobbled up.
Hmmm, I’m not too happy about that glare near my head but then again, perhaps it’s the waiter’s attempt to portray me as the Madonna from one of those pre-Renaissance humanism era religious paintings? Heeeeeeh…
Our meal was definitely not a cheap one, it was $279 including my glass of riesling and two bottles of water. Yep, they charged us $12 for a bottle of Aqua Panna which was fine but when we had finished our first bottle, they didn’t ask us if we would like a second bottle but just went ahead and opened one up before refilling our glasses. In hindsight, I suppose I should have asked beforehand but I really did think that Grossi Florentino worked like the Press Club in that we paid a one-off charge for unlimited Aqua Panna. I guess not. Apart from that, we thought the service was great. Indeed, the little complimentary dishes made the service experience better but it also made me wonder why we were the only ones getting the salmon in the beginning apart from a group of ostentatiously wealthy eldery folk sitting behind us who happened to be mates with Guy Grossi. Either the Asian waiter was happy to see some Asian presence in the predominantly WASP-y patronage or Guy Grossi thought we were hot or the fact that my less-than-discreet Powershot clued the waiters into the fact that I was, more than likely, a food blogger. Heh.
The food, on the other hand, was just good. Good, but not excellent. Given the fact that this was a two-hatted restaurant and given the fact that it was probably the most expensive meal we’ve had (apart from Flower Drum‘s scrumptious banquet), we felt that the food could have been better for the prices we paid. While our pastas were divine, we couldn’t say the same about our mains which didn’t have the same luxury elements. Sure, they were all good but perhaps a bit too… boring? On the other hand, I guess it is a bit hard to make Florentine food toffy because after all, the food from that region is Tuscan and is based on traditional “peasant” food than top-notch fine dining. Perhaps this explains why, out of all the Grossi restaurants, the humble Cellar Bar was the one I liked the most. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind a $14 lasagne or a $15 duck pappardelle… mmmm…