A few weeks ago I revisited a restaurant I first dined at around two years ago…the Guy Grossi outpost at the Rialto- The Merchant of Venice. After returning to his mother’s homeland Guy was inspired to bring a casual Osteria to Melbourne…a place that encouraged people to enjoy great food, wine and the company of others. The result was The Merchant.
The restaurant is unmissable- just look for the gondola sitting in the middle of the Rialto forecourt. It is warm and inviting with an open kitchen adding theatrics. Shortly after taking our seats, our waiter returns, resplendent is his white coat and offers us a freshly mixed signature Bellini. It doesn’t take much to twist our arm and very soon I am sipping the perfect combination of peach puree and “Grossi” brand prosecco. What a great start to the evening.
The menu is designed to encourage sharing amongst diners and we decided to opt for the San Marco feast which placed us in the hands of the Chef who served up six signature dishes and 2 sides as well as dessert. Amazing value for $70 a head. The wine list is comprehensive and favours Italian imports. We settled on a mid range Merlot from Trentino which was smooth enough to cut through the hearty flavours of Venetian cuisine.
First up was a wooden board with fresh cured meats and salami and four fresh oysters with lemon vinaigrette. The prosciutto had the right balance of saltiness and the cured meats were mildly peppery. The lemon vinaigrette was the perfect accompaniment to the salty “fresh from the sea” oysters. The feast had begun!
Next up was a duck ragu with fresh spaghetti, which came in the signature blue and yellow Merchant of Venice dinnerware. The ragu was chunky and saucy and the pasta was perfectly al dente with bite. Accompanying this were four large pieces of hand made lamb tortellini with a pesto sauce. Each piece of tortellini had a generous amount of lamb filling.
From here we moved on to what would be mains in any other restaurant. Two perfectly cooked char grilled minute steaks with a surprising parsley puree, and a hearty lamb ragu with creamy polenta. These dishes were accompanied with buttered snake beans and a rustic salad of borlotti beans, celery, tomatoes and lettuce.
Stomachs straining we moved on to the final dish of the evening a light and fluffy ricotta mousse with berries and puffed deep fried pastry pieces, which were perfect to dip into the mousse and provided a welcome textural element. I loved the plating of this dessert. A large martini glass, big enough for two people all served on a wooden board This was the perfect dessert to finish off the meal, light and sweet enough without being overly rich or heavy.
Overall my second foray at the Merchant was a lovely experience. The service was pleasant without being overly fussy and the meal was a hearty taste of classic Venetian flavours. Simple classic flavours without being too stuffy or rigid in presentation.
I highly recommend trying one of Grossi’s Melbourne outposts for classic Italian cuisine.
Open Mon-Fri 7am-11pm Sat 5-11pm