Friday, July 27, 2012

Merchant Osteria Venezia

Campari Spritz - Campari, Grossi Prosecco, citrus - $15.00

How cute is the little gondola on the glass? We recently celebrated my mum's birthday with a lovely dinner at Merchant Osteria Venezia. I'm lucky enough to have been to Venice before (see my posts from 2006: Venice, Gelato and Harry's Bar), and absolutely loved it, so I was really keen to try Guy Grossi's take on Venetian regional cuisine.

Merchant Osteria Venezia
Rialto
495 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9614-7688
Website

It was a celebration, so that means cocktails! As you can see, my family are big Campari drinkers - I love its refreshing bitterness, especially before or with a meal.
Back: Italian Job - Passionfruit, lime, campari - $15.00
Front: Testa Rossa - Campari, Frangelico, aranciata rossa, rosemary syrup, lime - $18.00
The Italian Job cocktail was a special, and not on their normal menu, and when our lovely waitress told us it had passionfruit, lime and campari in it, I had to order it straight away! Cocktail heaven! I was impressed by the quality of the cocktails, and the fresh, citrussy focus of the cocktail list really appealed to me - so much so that, just quietly, I've been back since this dinner for more tasty cicchetti (snacks) and cocktails at the bar

There are a few different areas for seating: at or around the bar; some hidden little booths on a muraled wall (which I think would make a cute spot for a date!); and an open area in full view of the kitchen, which is where we sat.

Open kitchen
Whilst I loved the view, the tables weren't particularly comfortable - my dad found the table a bit cramped, and there was nowhere we could put our bags. (The chairs had curved backs, which meant we couldn't hang our bags on them - this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, as I don't like putting my handbag on the floor, and keeping it on your lap exacerbates the cramped feeling.)


Bread
We started with olive oil and excellent crusty bread, baked in-house - we could see it being baked throughout the night, which I thought was quite cool - and a couple of cicchetti to share.

Fòlpo saorio - marinated octopus - $16.00
I loved the marinated octopus - it was very fresh and tender, without any hint of rubberiness, and a fantastic flavour from the olive oil, chilli, parsley and garlic. Classic and delicious.

Aranzini de zafferan - saffron arancini - $10 per serve (2 serves pictured, 2 balls per serve)
Similarly delicious were the saffron arancini - big balls (heh) of saffron-infused risotto, with a lovely crisp breadcrumb crust. However, I must admit that I wasn't too happy that we were given two servings without being asked beforehand, when we'd ordered "one serve of arancini". The menu didn't specify the number of arancini per serve, and didn't realise that we had been given two servings until we saw the charge on the bill at the end of the evening.

On a more positive note, let's have a look at the mains!
Polastrèlo a la diavola in piastra - grilled spatchcock, chilli, garlic - $28.00
My  mum loved the grilled spatchcock: it was tender, juicy, and had a nicely charred crust.

Conejo a la vecia - braised rabbit, pine nuts, sultanas - $35.00
I saw "pine nuts" and "sultanas", and had to order the braised rabbit. I thought the presentation and the plate were really pretty too! I love the combination of dried fruit and meat, and would have liked even more sultanas, but other than that, it was a great dish.

Fritto smissioto - fried fish, seafood and vegetables - $32.00
The fritto smissioto was, as the name suggests, a mixture of fish, seafood and vegetables, battered and fried. Whilst all the items were very fresh, well fried and not overly greasy (the paper underneath had a few oil stains, but wasn't soaked through), it was quite a large portion and the overall effect was rather heavy. Probably best to order this one without having an entree beforehand!

Tortellini Di Carne - Veal tortellini - $20.00
When the tortellini was brought out, we thought it looked a little small compared to the other mains (although being priced at $20, it clearly is intended as an entree or a light meal), but the veal filling was quite rich, and it turned out to be a perfectly-sized meal!

Patate alla Veneziana - sautéed potatoes - $9.50
As those of you who've followed my blog for a while will know, I can't resist ordering crispy potatoes as a side at restaurants, no matter how much else I've ordered - I think I might have a problem! These potatoes were very good, with a crisp exterior, fluffy insides and a nice hint of rosemary.

Salata tridà - Venetian chopped salad - $12.00
And finally, the salata tridà, with chopped tomatoes, onions, lettuce celery and borlotti beans, was a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of our meals. I don't ordinarily like raw celery, but it worked very well here. On less celebratory occasions, this would be the type of salad I'd like to eat for lunch in its entirety.

We were pretty full, and weren't sure whether or not to order dessert - but knowing that we were there to celebrate a birthday, our waitress strongly suggested we order one. We decided to share one between the four of us, and it was brought out complete with sparkler and a team of waitstaff singing "Happy Birthday to beautiful Mama!" Cue giggles galore from our table - such fun!


Crema brusà - Vanilla crème brûlée, saffron ice-cream - $14.50
The crème brûlée was well-made, with a smooth creamy custard and thin crackly sugar crust... but I was more taken with the smoothly textured and intriguingly flavoured saffron ice-cream, sitting in a crisp little biscuit basket. It's occurred to me that saffron ice-cream would be quite simple to make at home: does anyone have any ideas for how to serve it? (Apart from with a crème brûlée, of course!)

Crostoli - Thin, puffed biscuits - $3.50
Thrillingly, Merchant serve a variety of biscuits, and I ordered a little plate of crostoli. I was worried that they might be stale (I've had bad versions at other places before), but these were gorgeous - crisp all the way through, and clearly fried in fresh oil. Our (Italian) waitress told us that in her region, crostoli are eaten for good luck, which I felt was rather fortuitous!

Cafè Latte - $3.50
Being a restaurant, I had expected the coffee to be expensive, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was only $3.50. I imagine they can't put the prices of the coffee up too high as they cater to the office workers in the Rialto building upstairs, and compete with the other cafes in the area during the day.

Cakes and biscuits

We had a great night at Merchant and, arancini notwithstanding, we all thought the service was very good: warm, friendly and welcoming. It had a really pleasant, fun atmosphere, and I'd happily go back again. Our dinner worked out to be about sixty dollars a head (including drinks), which felt well priced. Merchant seems to have quite a bit going on - the restaurant menu itself is wide-ranging, with cicchetti, cured meats, risotti, pastas, polenta, fish, meats and desserts all making an appearance. And in addition to being a restaurant and bar, they are a cafe too, serving breakfasts, coffees, biscuits (yay!) and cakes. Phew!

Happy birthday Mum!!!

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