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|
The times they have a-changed. The venerable old restaurants are dinosaurs in the face of new dining fashions and iPad wine lists and Gen Y playlists and no bookings, everything fast and loud and shareable. The smarter ones acutely feel their predicament. They're making like ducks, paddling madly underwater while giving the surface impression of smooth, unruffled serenity.
Take the Grossi empire, which read the play and opened a fabulous little salumi bar called Ombra. Cured meats, a Ferrari-red slicer, lambrusco, small plates of smoked octopus and polpette. It floats my boat.
Next door you've got the old-world pomp of the Grossi flagship, Florentino. A place that puts the ''e'' into ye olde, this sanctum of grand oil murals and ornate chandeliers is like an overstuffed Chesterfield when everything around it has gone mad for mid-century Danish. And they are paddling, vigorously. Reopened after a refurb, the ground-floor entrance is smarter, the nicely curated soundtrack of vintage Italian pop and soft opera better. To the untrained eye, it appears pretty much the same (two words: heritage overlay) except for a plague of small pumpkins that has descended on the double-linen tables. I see where they're going with the fashionably naturalistic Noma-ism, but I dunno … The net effect is something like a great uncle in fluoro trainers playing air guitar to Gangnam Style.
After deep thought expedited by a bottle of the aromatic, fruity Sardinian Vigne Surrau Vermentino ($75, down the shallower end of a mighty list), I think it's the slightly pained response of a Michelin-styled restaurant tilting at World's 50 Best hipness. It's not the first restaurant to get the identity shakes and it won't be the last. But it would be good if it didn't get too caught up in the edible table adornments and got on with what it does best: wide-format Italian food that doesn't have to make excuses for itself.
At its best Guy Grossi's food shows why Italian has nicked the crown from French as the cuisine de choice in upscale restaurants. It's refined yet generous, not regional but based in gorgeous produce and great cooking.
It's easy to relax into the $39 skillet of honeycomb tripe (incidentally, the same price as at Neil Perry's retro-Italian Rosetta, GF's obvious new rival) braised with carrot, celery and white wine with chopped herbs to scatter over the toasty blanket of pecorino breadcrumbs. That's the funny thing about high-end Italian restaurants: you can pay top dollar to eat like a peasant.
I really enjoy eating at Florentino. It has a sense of occasion, some lovely food, and a newly invigorated staff led by the affable Joe Durrant. But this time too many variables intruded on what should be absolutely watertight. Loved the whipped lardo, for example; didn't love the hard-shelled house-baked rolls with a dull, mealy texture.
Loved the smoked-quail terrine, rolled around a fatty seam of foie gras. Didn't love the wholegrain mustard with port and red wine that hijacked the delicate flavours.
Loved the duck and porcini tortellini - six fat parcels stuffed with shredded roasted duck meat and earthy funghi, with a bright, clean duck jus and the smooth sweetness of caramelised pear. Didn't love the grit in every mouthful. The mushrooms seemed not to have been cleaned properly.
And I loved a fat wedge of wild Queensland barramundi in a way I rarely love this fish, the skin super-crunchy and the other side just kissed by the heat, with the smooth salty richness of black olive oil unifying the seared-edged pearl meat, wilted spinach and double-shelled peas and - erm - milk panna cotta. All appealing flavours, but hot food, cold panna cotta? It sums up Florentino's uneasy relationship with the pointy end of food fashion.
The suckling pig with apple cider sauce, however, is splendid, and I also rather liked a playful dessert DIY take on bruschetta, with stollen (fruitbread) and poached strawberries, dehydrated white balsamic and basil sorbet.
Reports of fine dining's death are greatly exaggerated. Any city with two international airports (count 'em, Sydney!) will always have an audience for a Grossi Florentino, which has flaws outweighed by its pleasures. Most important industries (restaurants, newspapers, DVD stores) are currently engulfed by conniptions about the way forward; I mightn't have the answers, but for the highest of high-end restaurants I would simply proffer this advice: keep calm and carry on.
The best bit The luxe effect
The worst bit The try-hard factor
Go-to dish Duck and porcini tortellini, $39
Wine list A lengthy benchmark collection
We drank Vigne Surrau Vermentino (Sardinia, Italy) $75
Owner Grossi family
Chefs Guy Grossi, Chris Rodriguez and Louis Naepels
Vegetarian One pasta
Dietary GF catered for
Parking Street or paid
Twitter: @LarissaDubecki or email@example.com
How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor.
12 Reasonable 13 Good if not great 14 Solid and enjoyable 15 Very good 16 Capable of greatness 17 Special 18 Exceptional 19 Extraordinary 20 Perfection
Restaurants are reviewed again for The Age Good Food Guide and scores may vary.