Dining Out: Upstairs by Grossi Florentino

A Dining Experience Review

Type: Fine Dining         Food: 7/10       Service: 8/10     Value for money: 6/10

http://www.grossiflorentino.com/upstairs-homepage

80 Bourke Street, Melbourne, VIC, 3000

Produce notes:

  • Poultry served at Grossi’s are sourced from a local farm in Trentham, where they raise Sommerlad chicken free range to graze on wild grubs, seeds, grits and organic feed.
  • Oysters here are from Merimbula, part of a community of farmers in NSW operating in an environmental management system to tackle environmental issues caused by the surrounding built up areas. Merimbula is part of the most sustainable oyster growing region in the world. You can read about Australia’s Oyster coast here.

The intern I work with just turned 20, and I sometimes feel like a complete senile when she speaks because our vocabulary is just no longer on par – despite us being only 5 years apart. She was assisting me in conducting some non-work related research of restaurant venues for my partner’s birthday dinner, and let out a sharp gasp followed by a shrill “IT’S SO TRADISHHHH!” when we landed on Grossi Florentino’s website.

‘What is Tradish?’ I uttered, slightly in shock from the bizarre outburst.

‘As in: traditional. Look at this restaurant, that is hardcore Italian right there. Sooo tradish.’

I took note: the modern colloquial term for “traditional” rhymes with radish.

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We booked the earliest sitting so as to get a good shot of the physical space without any diners in the way.

The intern was admiring a photo of the restaurant’s impressive classical fit-out, complete with dark oak wall panelling, double-clothed tables, chandeliers, and a series of murals depicting life in 16th century Florence.  You can take a look at/read about the murals in more detail on the Grossi Florentino website (recommended). I also spotted gold paint lining the detail on the high Victorian ceiling, and the Grossi emblem marked on the walls – also in gold. This was it.

Prior to enlisting the intern for help, I had looked at two other restaurants based on reviews by TGFG, friends and family, as well as various blog reviews. My partner and I tend to spoil each other with over-indulgent and sometimes exorbitantly priced food (it is Melbourne after all) on special occasions, but we have reached a stage where it’s becoming harder and harder to find a new fine dining establishment that might top one of our favourites. Grossi Florentino, being one of the oldest establishments in Melbourne and winning two hats several years in a row had my heart aflutter, and I was willing to give it a shot.

I confirmed the booking for Upstairs immediately and a few weeks later, we were grinning at each other from across a specially requested table by the window, reading a thoughtful birthday card left for us from the staff. Nice touch.

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The Renaissance themed murals on the walls carried through to the tableware.

We were started with drinks right away, and being a beautifully warm day we were parched for something crisp and cool. The sommelier presented us the drinks menu – two leather bound books about 50 pages long – and directed us towards the sparkling and the cocktails list. I’m really not one for cocktails prior to a meal so I opted for a sauvignon blanc whilst birthday boy ordered a fantastic bottle of wild beer from a local brewery.

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Wild beer from La Sirene – a local brewery. I must visit them one day, this was delicious.

With our drinks came a flurry of table snacks, arriving at our table one by one to whet our appetites before we were given a peek of the menu. I found these to be simple, classic Italian flavours, but their heroes were the produce used. Our little amuse-bouche of Panzanella (classic Italian bread salad) had the most flavoursome tomatoes and basil I had ever tasted. The grissini was made from scratch, and the beautiful figs that were wrapped in smokey, salty prosciutto were so luscious and almost creamy.

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Amuse-bouche platters with our drinks: Panzanella, herbed goats cheese arancini, house made grissini with Italian olives in herbed olive oil, prosciutto wrapped figs

Once happy with our drinks and nibbles, we felt truly settled into the restaurant. Imagine little tubby grandchildren sitting at nonna’s dining table being kept quiet with food. Our waiter came back and handed us the food menus: a 3 course a la carte and a 5 course degustation. This was a no brainer (actually, it was a little painful for me as the prices for these meals were astronomical). We opted for the 5 course degustation menu with paired wines to avoid the difficulty of choosing just 3 dishes each.

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Merimbula oysters with apple and walnuts

Our waiter informed me and my partner that we also had a choice of adding oysters to our degustation as a starter. Both our eyes lit up with excitement. We absolutely love oysters. It’s an ocean-friendly seafood that, when farmed, is pretty traceable and can be farmed without adding additional chemicals or antibiotics. We get 3 oysters each, paired with a sharp, apple-y sparkling wine that brought out the crispness of the apples on the oysters. Really good pairing actually.

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Fresh sourdough with olive oil, house churned butter, and pesto

I neglected to take a photo of the first dish of the degustation, which was a yellowfin tuna dressed in Beetroot, Golden Beet, Candy Beet, Orange, Smoked Sheep Curd, Sorrel and Fennel Pollen. Loved the combination of the smoked sheep’s curd with the beets, orange and tuna, but I felt that there was too much sorrel on the plate. It was paired with a delicious german white wine that brought out the sweetness of the tuna, which was served sashimi style.

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Antipasti: Calamari Ripieni with peas, pangrattato, white wine and tomato sauce, fregola

Some fresh sourdough was also brought to us between tasting meals to keep us slightly sobered up from our paired wines. Our second antipasti tasting dish was octopus in a delicious red sauce – I had to ask for more bread to mop it up off my plate. It was strong, and punchy, and I have craved this red sauce every day since. The octopus was cooked very well, and was paired with a light, floral pinot gris.

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Primi: Ravioli All’uovo with a perfectly runny egg yolk, smoked riccotta, butter, sage, amaretti, aged balsamic, and parmigiano reggiano

Our Primi tasting blew my mind. Honestly, this must be a bitch to make (pardon my french). Each pasta had a glistening, golden egg yolk nestled precisely in it’s center. The pasta is perfectly cooked and the blend of buttery, rich, salty, sweet and nutty flavours worked incredibly well together. I can’t quite recall what type of wine this was paired with, as by this point I was getting a little tipsy and then by the end of the night I was way too drunk to ask for a copy of the wines we had that evening (oops).

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Pasta Main: Rabbit Ragu with Grossi “Special Pasta”

Why not have more pasta? It is an Italian restaurant after all.

Following the delicious ravioli, we were served a rabbit ragu on handmade pasta individually marked with the Grossi signature pattern. I’m not a massive fan of rabbit as the meat is too sweet, but this was quite good. Earthy, umami flavours with strong fragrant Italian herbs. The pasta I didn’t quite understand, as it didn’t do a great job of holding the ragu. This was paired with our first red of the night. Cannot for the life of me recall it, sorry. I do remember it being very rich and – well – delicious. I absolutely love red wine. Annoyed that I didn’t get that list of wine pairings from our sommelier.

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Not suckling pig 😦

I’m still not 100% sure what our second main dish was as it is in none of the menus made available online and I was certain it wasn’t on the menu we were given at the start of the night…I called up the day after asking if I could be emailed a copy of the current menu but was given the one on the website, which had the suckling pig as the main. Bummer.

From what I do remember, this was described as slow cooked goat. It was incredibly rich and hearty and you get quite a hefty portion of it actually, but I was super disappointed that we didn’t get to try the suckling pig. This new dish confused me, as it wasn’t even served on pasta (cous cous was the base) and it was just very very large for tasting plate. Bizarre.

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Pre-dessert: Lemon Lime & Bitters sorbet

We’re offered a palette cleanser in the form of a playful sorbet inspired by lemon lime & bitters. This was wonderfully light and refreshing, a pepped me right up from my wined up, carbed up stupor. But not for very long. As soon as we finished, a very grand looking marble trolley appeared at our table, topped with various cheeses. CHEESE! We didn’t even need more food at this point but the cheese looked amazing, so we obviously ordered some. A wonderful selection of aged and smoked cheddars, a local Yarra Valley ash goat’s cheese, some very strong and pungent soft french cheeses, and a mouthwatering gorgonzola.

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Spoilt for choice: Grossi’s cheese trolley

Last but certainly not least (PHEW about to give birth to a food baby by this point) came dessert: a soft, pillowy chocolate soufflé served with melted Valrhona chocolate ganache sauce and an exotic grains of paradise ice cream. At the time I had no idea where the spiciness came from in this dish. Looking up the menu the next day, I discovered that grains of paradise was a type of spice originating from West Africa and was part of the ginger family. It sure packed quite a punch! I’d love to use it in some of my recipes but will have to do further investigation on how the spice is imported and packaged.

Our soufflés were matched with a Grossi sherry but our sommelier remembered overhearing my partner’s curiosity over a 42 dollar bottle of chocolate beer (that’s right folks, 42 AUSTRALIAN dollars). He was given a complimentary glass to indulge him on chocolate.

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Dessert: Valrhona chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce, grains of paradise ice cream

 

Needless to say, by the end of the night my partner and I were both very full and very drunk. In terms of service, I couldn’t fault Grossi’s. Everything from the hand written birthday card, the attention to our needs, and the ambiance of the sumptuous physical space was impeccable. As we were escorted out to our Uber, one of the wait staff handed us a parting gift: a Grossi goodie bag of the house extra virgin olive oil and the red wine vinegar.

The food was over indulgent and gluttonous, but extremely expensive, so a caution to those on a tighter budget. Out of all the fine dining establishments I’ve visited in Melbourne, this was one of the most expensive degustations I’ve had with fewer dishes.

Happy feasting, and do mind your table manners.

 

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