Friday, October 7, 2011

Merchant (Revisited)

Rialto 495 Collins St
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 03 9614 7688

A great first date with a restaurant is a tricky beast to handle. Arrange a second and risk dissipating the heady magic of that maiden moment. Stoically preserve the past and always wonder if it might have been matched, if you’d only had the mojo.

Or, like me, wait until you’re sent an innocuous article referencing one damning detail of the affair (an enticing recipe for drunken pasta swimming with clams), and against your better judgment find yourself calling at nine in the morning on a Wednesday with all the breathless desire of a Mills & Boons heroine, wailing for vongole with breakfast.

The attraction appears less mutual. I’m told dispassionately to turn up at a more appropriate noontime hour and try for a walk-in table (in a compromise with current trends, half the restaurant cannot be reserved). Ever the willing wench, I concede, and a second date with the Merchant is made.

I rope in an accomplice to provide objectivity to my assessment. He orders the gnocchi and proves suitably less convinced.

Gnocchi, ragu’ de cinghiale ($20)

A real looker but the gnocchi is a mush-mash of textures, soft but not supple. More than a little disappointing, considering we’re at a Grossi. The accompanying spiced wild boar ragu is exceptional, however, as fulsomely rich and tempestuous as its name suggests.

Meanwhile, I'm finding it difficult to empathise; my cravings are being convincingly corrupted by a genuinely charming dish of spaghetti with clams.

Spaghetti ca le caparele ($23)

It’s as generous as I remember, the clams taste fresh and clean, and the lithe, light sauce of garlic and white wine sensuously clings to every strand. My only jibe was that it was slightly under-seasoned, but this was readily remedied by a sprinkling of salt from the table.

To prolong my Merchant encounter, the dessert menu is requested, but I pick a beguiling slice of chocolate tart from the display instead.

Chocolate tart ($8.50)

The tart is neither the sleek nor shiny production I’ve come to expect from Italian pastries: coarser in texture, laced with orange, and requires forking with pressure. I ask for some accompanying vanilla ice cream and a very intense version is brought to the table, which I irresponsibly finish with a hefty chunk of tart to spare. I'm addicted, and a second scoop is speedily decimated.

Later, I’m told I can write in for a list of the ice cream ingredients if I’d like to recreate my poison at home. I suppose it’s as close as I’ll get to a night in with Merchant!

First impressions are great, but Merchant and I are in it for the long haul. And I reckon that matters more.

Merchant on Urbanspoon


  1. I've never been to merchant. I've been to grossi. Too pricey to return. :(

  2. Michelle: I've never been to Grossi myself - Merchant ticks all the boxes and is waay more affordable I reckon!

  3. My friends who work at Rialto keep asking me to try it! It's become their favourite place to eat esp right after work. Now I can see why! The selection of pasta looks amazing! YUM! =D

  4. I haven't had spaghetti alla vongole since being in Italy - loved it then and I would love to try this version!

    Grossi Cellar Bar (the smaller, cheaper arm of Grossi next door the main event) is really good, gorgeous service and fair prices.

  5. I wasn't completely blown away by Merchant and it's certainly not high on my list for a second visit, but the spaghetti vongole looks amazing....

  6. Lauren: Yes it's certainly the more affordable arm of Grossi that side of the city!

    Kenny: When the craving hits, it hits! ;)

    Ashley: I think there were certainly some hits and misses! The gnocchi was not enjoyed, but the vongole was faaab :)

  7. BREAKFAST?? Woman you're crazy! Next time call me, I work down the road!!! And I'm surprised Grossi didn't kick you out for photos :P

  8. I had an identical clams pasta dish with tomato-based sauce at an italian joint in Upper Manhattan . The place is rated highly in Manhattan City Guide but the dish is sub-standard compared to that of Merchant - both on taste and presentation. The pasta is hard and the sauce is too salty and I can actually count the number of clams I had ! Merchant must be proud. .

  9. I waited at the corner for my blind date. When a girl walked by, I said "Are you Linda?" She said "Are you Richard?" I said "Yeah." She said "I'm not Linda."

    Merchant is OK.

  10. The spaghetti looks decent and gotta love a pasta with seafood with their shells intact- many places seem to serve their seafood based pastas with a premix. Not good. I've been interested but not dying to go to Merchant.

  11. msihua: I saw him there once! Didn't blink at my camera!

    AT: That's terrible, what a shame! Come home for better pasta :)

    DJ: I'm sure Linda thought you were OK too ;)

    Adrian: So true about the premix. I had an oyster omelette the other day using canned oysters. Disgusting!

  12. This is going to to the top of my to-do list in places to visit. I'm loving your entire blog, fab work !