This week I am

A special treat: celebrating the writing of More than Melbourne, which will be released in early September, we went to dinner at Florentino, upstairs. It’s ages since we were there, and the food has changed a fair bit. It’s no longer solidly traditional Italian, but it combines tradition and contemporary ideas, which makes it rather more interesting.

I was just thrilled by the place: by the beauty of it and the care that goes into everything (not a crease in the tablecloth!), by waiters who knew about the food and lots about the wine, by the range of choices (a la carte, and three set menus, including a vegetarian degustation) and by the quality of the cooking. We had the five course dinner, with a couple of extra courses thrown in, just for fun.

We started with an appetiser that combined an apple and fennel jelly with lemon ‘snow’, some raw sliced tuna, a hint of avocado, and slice of bottarga. It worked wonderfully – bright fresh flavours, good textures, a fair amount of acidity, so it was refreshing. Then came Fremantle octopus with lightly pickled baby vegetables and a goat’s cheese croquette, and a dish that stopped me in my tracks: nettle tortellini filled with crab, a cauliflower veloute, with some avruga caviar. There was a slice of cauliflower, too, dry and rather dull, but without that, it was an absolutely stunning dish.

What did I eat next? Oh, go for yourselves and find out, or make your own choices.

I’d forgotten how exciting a really good restaurant is – how it stimulates thinking as well as the appetite, how much it pleases all the senses, how pleasing good waiters are. The five course menu  here is $140, which seems to me to be great value. I’ve spent $100 a head on some quite ordinary meals, and paid as much for wines that were served with less knowledge and courtesy.

Grossi Florentino, 80 Bourke St, Melbourne. Tel. 9662 1811.www.grossiflorentino.com

On a simpler level, Porgie + Mr Jones has had a refurb. It’s looking very smart indeed – open, spacious, casual. I’d been there a couple of times, including a grumpy breakfast. I was the grumpy one. I have little tolerance at breakfast, and still less about fruit juice, which I don’t like, except for just made. I asked if the orange juice was fresh. Yes, said the waiter. But it wasn’t. I meant freshly squeezed then and there, he meant freshly squeezed by someone else in other premises. I was snarly for about five minutes, but haven’t been back to breakfast, which is a meal for consenting adults, in my view. Lunch, on the other hand, was better. I think I had a baguette.

It’s mean to remember that, but maybe not, because I feel so much better about it now. It seems to have become much smarter, much more focussed.

After its refurb, it’s looking much less cluttered, much more – well, professional. It’s still BYO, and now open from breakfast through a very smart lunch – try the bresaola, or the pumpkin risotto if you want a change from baguettes or soup. Also open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. I’d recommend the beef cheek, if it’s on the menu. Two courses $55, three courses $70, and BYO. How lovely is that! (Note it’s cash only, but there’s an ATM next door, very handy.)

Porgie + Mr Jones, 291 Auburn Rd, Hawthorn. Tel. 9882 2955.www.porgiemrjones.com.au

Another refurb: this time at Café Latte in Malvern Rd, Toorak.  It’s looking good, its dining space unbroken by a bar (as it used to be). There’s a big white-painted room, the walls with paintings and framed mementoes, and a clever round light fitting, a great circle above the room. I was there for lunch recently and recommend the $35 lunch. Two of us ate there: one had orecchiette with broccoli to start, followed by braised goat; I had the salume (with some buffalo mozzarella), followed by scaloppine with capers. Generous servings, nicely cooked food, well presented. The cost included a glass of wine (unknown, because the waiter didn’t say what it was, but just fine). It’s so long since I’ve had scaloppine, I’d forgotten what a simply good dish it is – and the capers were a bright salty lift. Very good value.

Café Latte, 521 Malvern Rd, Toorak. Tel. 9826 5846 www.cafelatte.com.au  

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