80 Bourke St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||L Mon-Fri,D Mon-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Business lunch, Degustation, Events, Licensed, Lunch specials, Long lunch, Private dining, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Chef||Guy Grossi, Chris Rodriguez, Matteo Toffano|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9662 1811|
Restaurants come and restaurants go, but Florentino is forever. The stalwart Bourke Street Italian has had a good innings, even if it has shape-shifted over the decades, passing from the Massoni family to the Grossi-Rodriguez clan, growing ever outwards with Cellar Bar, Grossi Grill, Ombra salumi bar and (almost open) late-night wine bar Arlechin soon to command most of the block.
There's a lot to like about the progressive side of the Grossi portfolio. When Arlechin opens you will be able to get a manhattan, a nebbiolo and a fist-sized snack at 2.50am on a Monday. They'll soon be slinging pizza pockets at Pezzo branches all over town. But there's still something that feels important heading up the carpeted stairs to the muralled jewel in the crown.
There's always a reception; small stools for ladies bags, and linen for tables of a quality that George Clooney might wear on the Amalfi Coast. Sadly the phones that once graced tables have gone. But if Grossi Florentino is classic to its panelled-and-stained-glass bones, you can still see the eyes on the now and the future.
Guy Grossi's son, Carlo, moved up from Ombra in November to run the floor, and, with the help of sommelier Michael Smith, a new era of drinking and eating has settled in. This is a restaurant where a sacrificial drop is still gifted to the wine gods. Your waiter rolls a little liquor around your stemware to rid it of impurities, and the controlled twirl with one hand while balancing a tray of bottles in the other is a hell of a thing to behold.
What's in that glass, now that the cellar is moving across the back lane Arlechin, is a tighter mix of wines that champion the greats of Italy from Livio Felluga's crunchy sharis to barolos with age poured from the Coravin.
The course of dinner, cooked these days by Guy Grossi, Chris Rodriguez and Matteo Toffano, has also had a shake-up. Amuse has yielded to the modern flurry of snacks of fine diners everywhere. It's here they set the determinedly Italian tone, albeit with a contemporary bent.
Savoury cornetti are filled with a whipped mozzarella cream and tomato emulsion. Lacy dragonfly wings of dehydrated zucchini are bound with a little hummus. There's a less delicate crumbed meatball pinging with fennel seed, and a cup of artichoke soup that's luxe and properly hot, with a minor hit of truffle oil – infused, not the synthetic gear.
You get these whether you do the Gran Tour of six courses, or opt for three bigger a la carte plates. This is offered in deference to loyal clientele who still want flex (and heft), and has some of the menu's more interesting moments.
Meaty slices of raw tuna are countered with a fine crunch of radish and fennel and just an edge of bitterness from grapefruit gel. It's an unusual foil that works. Veal done Albese-style is essentially truffle-topped tartare, the raw meat cut to even dice with sharp croutons, and instead of capers and mustards, it gets its tang from a velvety parmesan cream. Somehow this makes it reminiscent of rich lasagne without the carbs.
It's all the comfort you expect of Italian, but some deeply refined cooking, too. A surf clam risotto has grains stained a deep chlorophyll green with plankton so you get a gentle but insistent taste of the sea. Maltagliati di pane, the misshapen pasta sheets made from breadcrumbs, are silky smooth rags rippling around juicy lobes of bug meat, spinach and a glossy seafood sauce enriched by colatura, an anchovy-based garam. The flavours hit a little deeper every bite.
It's possible that you'll find the meaty mains least memorable. A partridge breast is well cooked, with a very sweet licorice sauce, buckwheat and slow-roasted carrots, or there's a chock of suckling pig paired off with a little rhubarb. But probably because it's the barrier before the giant cheese trolley is rolled over laden with ashed chevre, and epoisse.
Having this chased by a contemporary dessert by pastry chef Peter Nguyen, who was sent for a stage with Janice Wong in Singapore, and has rendered all the classic flavours of hazelnut, cherry and a zabaglione into a white chocolate bomb settles the case. Florentino is doubling down on its forward march and it's working. It's history and the future rolled into one. Proof you can have roots and wings.
Pro Tip: You can do two courses at lunch for $65.
Go-to Dish: Maltagliati with bugs, spinach and colatura.