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495 Collins Street, Melbourne 3000
T: +613 9614 7688
F: +613 9614 7211
Hours: Mon-Sat Lunch & Dinner. Closed Sunday.
Merchant is the latest venture by Guy Grossi, adding to his empire which includes includes the fine dining institution Grossi Florentino, and adjoining Grill and Cellar bar, and Mirka at Torlano. It is situated at the base of the newly revamped Rialto building, with a wooden boat outside to add to its Venetian theme.
Merchant is a casual restaurant – the staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the decor colourful and unpretentious. Guy Grossi envisaged an osteria – as wiki defines where “the emphasis is generally placed on maintaining a steady clientele rather than on haute cuisine.” Osteria in Italian literally means a place where the owner “hosts” people.” And the night we dined – Guy Grossi himself was only two tables away from us, hosting his guests. It is Venetian themed – to celebrate the culture of his family.
The large open kitchen churns out items at amazing efficiency from the menu which is broken down into cichetti (small eats), pasta, risotto, meats, seafood, sides and desserts.
We begin with a Bellini – which are brought to our table, a champagne flute filled with a yummy peach puree – topped up with sparkling wine and then stirred gently at our table.
From the chicetti – we choose
The fòlpo saorio – tender slices of well marinated octopus.
The mixed salumi – containing salami, prosciutto, and a couple others I can’t remember. These were nice enough, but the most impressive part was watching them being sliced to order from the large meat slicer sitting on the end of the bar.
The aranzini de zafferan (saffron risotto balls) – were delicious. I can’t look at a menu with risotto balls and not order them. These did not disappoint, though admittedly I am very easy to please when it comes to risotto balls.
The patè de figà de anara (duck liver pate) was rich and creamy and not at all gamey. A reasonably generous serve, I really enjoyed this dish.
I asked our helpful waiter what he would order – and he strongly suggested we get the spaghetti co le caparele (spaghetti with clams). I wasn’t expecting much from this dish, but my god was it good. I can’t articulate how this dish was so good, but I guess my best way to describe it is simplicity at its finest. Perfectly cooked aldenti spaghetti, in such a light yet wonderful sauce of chopped tomatoes, herbs and olive oil. I’ve had so many dishes like this in the past (I’m a massive fan of pasta marinara and pasta with seafood), but this was the best I’ve had.
I had previously being mortified by squid ink, as I’m sure many have due to its unappetizing, dark, murky colour which seems to stain everything ugly. However a trip to Venice changed that, and having had a wonderful squid ink risotto there, I am a convert – although I do hate how it can leave squid ink particles on your teeth and lips (yes had the awkward meal where I had been sitting there chatting happily, only to go to the bathroom much later to see squid ink all over lips and teeth). If it is not prepared well, or not fresh, squid ink can taste very fishy – but when done correctly, it has a wonderful fishy creaminess. This was a great specimen – and this risoto moro (squid ink risotto) was my favourite dish of the night.
Upon the recommendation of the waiter – we ordered the quaje a la diavola in piastra (grilled quail, chilli). It was flayed then grilled lightly and served with a quinelle of some form of parsley pesto. It was well cooked, and tasty enough, but it seemed to be lacking in something… When it comes to quail – I firmly believe that us Asians do it best. 🙂
For some sides, we also went the
patate alla Veneziana (sautéed potatoes in garlic) and
salata tridà (Venetian chopped salad).
These were both very nice – I can’t fault either of these, well cooked and great balance of flavours.
Despite Grossi’s fame, it seemed Merchant has had a relatively quiet opening with few people I’ve talked to even knowing of its existance. When I visited in December, the only post I could find of Merchant was Melbourne Culinary Journal‘s. The restaurant was busy but not full, and it was not hard to obtain a booking. Though Merchant has recently been reviewed in The Age’s Epicure (scoring 14/20), so I imagine it will quickly become more difficult to get a seat.
Taste: 9. I have dreams of the squid ink risotto and clam spaghetti. Take me back.
Value: 9. Surpisngly cheap for the quality of the produce. Serves are not large, but that only means you can order and try more 😉
Service: 9. Our waiter was extremely friendly and attentive. Food comes amazingly quickly
Overall: 9. Merchant isn’t a dining experience that is defining new styles or setting new trends, it is what it sets out to be – an osteria – a casual dining experience. Good, simple food, done extremely well. I love this way of eating – small plates designed to share (I’m a variety is the spice of life kinda girl, and I love the communal aspect of dining too). Can’t wait to go back and try the rest of the menu!
Simon’s Peiking Duck Chinese Restaurant
197b Middleborough Road
Box Hill South
Although there is an extensive menu at Simon’s Peiking Duck restaurant – patrons come for one thing.
The duck banquet.
The Peking duck banquet consists of a whole roast duck – which, as described on the website is prepared
“at least a day in advance. First air is pumped into the duck body to stretch and loosen the skin, then boiled after is repeatedly spread over the duck, before carefully drying the duck. The duck is then roasted in a hot oven for a period of time until the meat is becomes tender and the skin crispy.”
We dined on a Monday night, and a full restaurant was emptying out and turning around for another full second sitting. No surprise, given he was recently reviewed in The Age’s Epicure, and the word was spreading around Melbourne that Simon Lay – the famed Peking Duck Nazi, was back. Simon had set up and made Old Kingdom an institution but sold it three years ago and whilst they kept the Peking duck banquet, it had gone steadily downhill, as reviewed earlier.
Much like the system at Old Kingdom, when I called to make the booking, Simon barked the questions
“How many people”
“6 o’clock or 8 o’clock?”
Can I have 7 o’clock?
“No. Two seatings. 6 o’clock or 8 o’clock”
Ok.. 8 please.
“How many duck?”
umm.. how many do I need?
“For 8 people.. usually… around 3. <chuckle> Though some like to have 4.”
This duck is served in a three part banquet –
The first course with the peking duck skin, served with 15 pieces of home made pancakes, spring onion, cucumbers and a special plum-hoison sauce.
The second course takes the duck meat, which stirfried with either bean-shoots or noodles. Without noodles, the banquet is $55 per duck, with noodles, the banquet is $63 per duck. You can have the choice of hand-made noodles, rice noodles, egg noodles, or hor fun noodles.
The third and final course uses the duck bones to make a soup with bean curd.
I had ordered three ducks, to the dismay of my friends, who insisted we needed at least one duck for two.
I sighed, and said I would ask Simon if there was extra duck, my friends were convinced they had to make spare ducks.
He chuckled, and said “only if you smile at me”.
What a charmer. I gave him my biggest smile so my friends wouldn’t bitch (even though I did ask them several times how many duck and no one said anything until we got there!!) and four duck it was.
I asked if this was too many, and Simon laughed and said “The table before you, four people three duck.”
Before our duck began to arrive, we could see ducks being carved around the restaurant, and devoured by each and every table. There were a few token other dishes, but everyone was here for the duck.
Our duck came, its skin glistening..
Simon himself carved our first duck, expertly and deftly cutting slices of skin, finishing the duck in a matter of minutes.. a real joy to watch.
The slices were piled high onto a plate and presented to our table..
A plate of 15 pancakes were presented, as well as 15 lengths of cucumber and 15 slices of spring onion.
Simon began by throwing some pancakes at our plates (which he missed, but was close!), and began by assembling my wrap –
“Spring onion, cucuumber at quarter past three! Duck, then sauce, now fold! “Six o’clock, Nine o’clock, three o’clock!”
resulting in a perfectly wrapped Peking duck wrap. The pancakes were delicately thin, yet surprisingly springy being able to hold the contents without tearing. These are the best duck wraps I’ve ever had. We eagerly bit into our wraps, which made a wonderful ‘crunch’ as our teeth bit through the crispy skin, releasing the juices and oiliness.
Simon, the King, is back.
We devoured the skins of our four ducks, they were just simply amazing.
For the stirfry – Simon suggested we do two with vegies, and two with noodles. He suggested we get the crispy noodles – which served Canton style which was deep fried noodles, shiitake mushrooms and gravy.
I preferred the noodles, but my friends preferred the stir fry, but they were both delicious, and despite the fact that we were stuffed, we managed to finish these.
Simon also suggested we order a vegetable and he said he’d bring us something we’ve never tried before.
Out came a mixture of asparagus, eggplant, okra stir fried in a spicy shrimp paste.
And indeed, I had never had this before, and I found it really yummy as I love asparagus, eggplant, okra and chilli. 🙂
To finish, the soup arrived, with thick chunks of soft tofu.
We all went home, stuffed, happy and pretty tipsy. Corkage is only $2/head. Bargain.
The night was perfect. The duck was amazing, and Simon was good fun throughout the night, coming around and joking with us all night. He even drank some wine with us, which he drank out of his tea-cup.
The only downfall of this place is its location – there isn’t really any form of public transport, which can be a problem if you consume too much Pinot with your duck.
Taste: 9. Best Peking Duck I’ve had. Stirfry and noodle were amazing, soup was ok. I’d be interested to try the other dishes, though that takes away stomach room for the ducks.
Value: 9.5. Great value, we were completely stuffed, and corkage is an absolute steal for only $2.
Service: 10. Simon is such a charmer. We all love Simon.
Overall: 9.5. Amazing experience, we all loved it.
The king is back.
I’m going to take a break from reviewing and discuss with you all the State of our Food Blogging Union.
A certain tweet and a certain blog post, both from Singapore, crossed the Pacific last night and made some waves in the food blogging community on both sides of the (much bigger) pond. Here’s the lowdown from my colleague in the Lion City, written in the form of an open letter to the blogger who’s, allegedly, reprehensible actions may bring the art of food blogging into disrepute:
It has come to my attention that you had visited a certain restaurant today for their Sunday Champagne Brunch in the Joo Chiat vicinity today with 3 dining companions. The brunch would have cost S$68++ per person. You had informed the restaurant that you were a food blogger and assumed that by telling them so, the bill for all 4 of you would be waived.
This was not to be the case, as highlighted to you by the management. Further, I understand that upon being informed by the staff that out of goodwill, the restaurant would waive the costs of the meal for your partner and yourself. However, the costs of the two other diners had still to be borne by your dining companions. Upon hearing so, I put it to you that you threw your credit card at the cashier, while you glared at the staff who handled your bill. This was quoted from the operations manager of the restaurant and thus may be skewed.
The management of the restaurant in question was, in my opinion, more than kind enough to sign off the bill of both yourself and your 1 dining partner as goodwill.
Let it be known that most of us food bloggers (yours truly included) simply cannot condone your acts today.
Dated 22nd August 2010
Indeed, we cannot condone such acts and let me be perfectly clear. Food blogging has risen in prominence in recent years. As we have become more widely read we have also become more influential, we have been picked up by PR companies and restaurants alike as they jump on the new media bandwagon to promote their establishments. And that’s fine, that’s ok, that’s market-driven capitalism, ladies and gentlemen, and we love it. BUT you food bloggers will know that we are constantly attacked by certain other members of the hospitality establishment – be they prominent journalists or restaurateurs – for being random hacks who (often) don’t have any experience in either hospitality or journalism and are just contributing noise to an already noisy internet.
I vigorously defend food bloggers and food blogging against these charges, as do many others, because the food scene is about democracy, demand and supply. The food scene is, first and foremost, for the common punter and if we food bloggers are representative of the common punter, with our underdeveloped palates and our quirky use of the English language, then we are the best ambassadors for said food scene. So if a food blogger didn’t have a good experience at your restaurant, or didn’t understand the finely honed, complex, nuanced dishes that were presented due to his membership of the boorish, unwashed masses that normally frequent your hell-hole, and the food blogger pans it and influences public opinion… well too bad. Make sure your customers have a better experience next time and don’t complain, you grade A ass-tard.
BUT what does bring food blogging into disrepute is not bad writing (and there’s a lot of it, and it hurts me) and it’s not supposedly untrained palates being let loose on an unsuspecting kitchen, it’s the alleged actions of the food blogger mentioned above. Food bloggers, you are not entitled to goddamn free meals! You are not entitled to anything, in fact! How a food blogger could have the gall to actually walk into a restaurant and demand free food just because he sits behind a laptop and churns out (poorly written, simplistic) reviews of restaurants is totally beyond me.
I would never even announce that I’m a food blogger at a restaurant. The whole point of being able to write an objective review is that you should be served as would any member of the general public. We’ve talked about how restaurants probably realise that we’re food bloggers once they see DSLRs and pads with pens, and that’s a tough one to get around, but at the very least don’t waltz up to the maitre’d and say “I’m a food blogger, bitches, now give me and my friends free food and handjobs or I will pan your restaurant to smithereens, muahahahaha!” Seriously.
So, unlike my colleague at Hungry Epicurian, I am not going to be so cautious as to not name names. The allegations are being levelled at one Brad, from Lady Iron Chef. Now I will say as something of a disclaimer, these are just allegations, I have not seen any evidence of course, and I will straight out inform you that this is hearsay. Brad did tweet that he was at brunch at the restaurant at the time, so those facts do match up… But this isn’t about Brad, this is about what THOU SHALT NOT DO AS A FOOD BLOGGER. I for one would like to see a post on LIC clarifying Brad’s position, or at the very least some tweets. The allegations have not as yet been acknowledged.
So that’s it from me and back to reviewing, folks, and remember. Those bloggers that do engage in this kind of activity are a minority. The rest of us aren’t doing this for free food, limelight or anything else. We do it because we love food and we love to write about our experiences and share them with the rest of you. Please don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch.
PS. Hey Brad, you should probably fix the horrendous spelling error in your blog header. “Past-time” doesn’t mean anything. #JustSayin
A young food blogger who demanded that he and his three companions be given free meals at an upscale restaurant in the Joo Chiat area has sparked a huge furore online.
The group of four had walked into Private Affairs, a small but exclusive eatery in Joo Chiat, for its Sunday champagne brunch promotion that costs S$68++ per person.
The blogger in question, Brad Lau, who runs a food blog called Ladyironchef, had informed the management on Friday that he would be coming down to review the Sunday Brunch promotion.
On the day itself, he and his partner came down at about 130pm, followed by his two other companions, each of whom came down half an hour apart.
The four of them had brunch until 430pm, even when the restaurant’s official brunch hours was from 1130 am to 330pm. Brad and his partner also enjoyed two glasses of champagne each.
When presented with the final bill of $435, the blogger initially refused to pay and repeatedly told the restaurant’s chef, “I never pay for food in any restaurant.”
The restaurant eventually offered to waive off the cost of the meal for him and his partner as well as the cost of the champagne out of goodwill, thus lowering the bill to $159.
Still upset but finally relenting to pay, the blogger then threw his credit card onto the bar counter in front of the cashier before storming out.
Note: Yahoo! Singapore has confirmed the incident with the restaurant’s management, click on that link above to see their statements. So one side of the story is confirmed, will be interesting to see if Brad posts with his side, whatever that side may be.
UPDATE 3: The website now states that “This account has been suspended”.
UPDATE 4: Brad has now replied with a full post and explanation on his blog. It’s lengthy and seems to still go down once in a while. I won’t reproduce it here because I’d have to pretty much quote the whole thing in full plus pictures, but the gist of it is, that he had been invited by the restaurant to attend a “tasting” which he sees as fundamentally different to visiting as a usual punter. Moreover, he was told that he could bring a friend and both their meals would be on the house. Brad wanted to bring three friends, had notified the PR rep for the restaurant that he was doing so but did not get a response. The rest is, as they say, history.
I don’t really understand this PR-invited food tasting culture in Singapore personally. As I said above, I believe that in order to properly review an experience at a restaurant it’s important to be incognito, much as one of the general public would be, so as not to receive special service and special perks. In my opinion, that leads to a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” arrangement that destroys the objectivity of food blogging and reviewing. But whatevs. In any case, I think it was somewhat presumptuous of him to assume he could just bring along as many people as he wanted. Moreover, it was something of a professionalism fail by the PR company to not even dignify him with a response. Can this be attributed to that aspect of Chinese culture known as ‘saving face’? Would it be normal to, instead of saying ‘no’ and thus the person making the request losing face, to just ignore and hope that they get the message? I’m not sure, maybe someone can comment.
I’m sure Brad and everyone else will be happy to see this sordid affair behind them. Brad and the restaurant both got some publicity, both were maligned for a while and I’m sure no one will even remember what this was in a month. However, the focus behind this post was to start a discussion about food blogging and where we should draw lines in terms of ethics. I hope I’ve done that.
Update 5: Yahoo! Singapore has posted a fresh one reporting on Brad’s response, this might be a good avenue for those of you who still can’t get access to his blog.
Although he did not clarify at the time if he and his partner would be expected to pay, he wrote, ”This was an invitation to a food-tasting session. There is no hard and fast rule stating a plus one for a food tasting. However, having attended previous food tastings before, I assumed that the meal would be, at the very least, on the house for myself and one dining partner.”