Melbourne has so many eateries opening week after week that it’s easy to get caught up in the fervour of chasing new dining experiences.
But we musn’t forget the stalwarts of the city’s dining scene, places like The Grand Hotel in Richmond that have been serving happy customers for more than twelve years in Burnley Street.
I confess that despite moving to Melbourne twelve years ago myself I have never ventured to The Grand until last week. I was invited to attend one of The Grand’s special monthly events, The Grand Masters dinner to celebrate the old guard of Melbourne restaurant scene for AFR’s Australia’s Top 100 Restaurants, the only peer voted restaurant list in Australia.
Branco Cokesa, Alex Almatrah and Peter Watt are three front of house staff that have worked in the hospitality business for over 40 years and together garnered over 165 (!) chef hats between them. While they served the diners in one of The Grand’s upstairs function rooms, they regaled us with anecdotes about ACDC, Billy Joel, Alan Bond and other celebrities, shared stories about their love for hospitality and the special place The Grand had in their hearts.
The night highlighted the skill of The Grand’s co-head chefs, two young Italians in their late 20s with Michelin-starred resumes.
First course was a Battuta di Tonno, a simple tuna tartare inspired by Olimpia Bortolotto’s dish served at Cafe Meni’s in St Kilda.
The pasta course was a dish that Stephen Downes rated as one of the 100 things you must eat before you die – chef Valerio Nucci’s Vincisgrassi Lasagne. It’s a traditional dish from the Marche region of Italy and not one you’re likely to find on many restaurant menus. The secret ingredients? Pot roasted chuck steak slow-cooked with vegetables and herbs, chopped kidneys brains and liver and lashings of butter!
The main course was a melting roast porchetta with baby carrots, beetroot and spinach inspired by Bill Marchetti’s Latin, THE place for the rich and famous to dine in the 80s and 90s.
The finale was developed by the The Grand’s ‘Young Guns in the Kitchen’ a white chocolate semifreddo with caramelised rock melon. It’s not often you see melon on dessert menus these days and the refreshing sweetness was a perfect counterpoint for the richness of the previous savoury dishes.
The Grand is the kind of place that families visit over generations and it has consistently been awarded one hat since 2006. It’s not flashy or cutting edge but serves authentic Italian food in a warm and inviting environment where you know you’ll be taken care of. Treasure it, Melbourne.