Friday, July 23, 2010

Grossi Florentino: Interview with Guy Grossi

Grossi Florentino has always enchanted me: there is something quite magical about eating a delicious Italian meal in a room with such a resounding sense of history. It is simply impossible not to become caught up in its romantic, old-world charm. In this post, I will present a brief history of the restaurant and, below, you can read my interview with the very passionate executive chef/owner, Guy Grossi. 


The origins of the Grossi Florentino building date back to 1860 when a row of terrace shops were constructed at the top of Bourke Street for prominent merchant, Benjamin Moses. In 1900, it was established as a wine café at a time when the top end of Bourke Street was notoriously shady. A.H. Spencer (Hill of Content) described the area quite lyrically as a place where "gangsters soft-footed the byways, revolver shots sounded their echoes, worshippers of Bacchus sang or moaned their melodies, making midnight and the a.m eerily mysterious." In 1918 the Wynn family took possession of the building, initially living on the first floor before moving their popular Café Denat from Exhibition Street to the space. Allan Wynn noted that the wine store and café were run more respectably than the surrounds, with "...the customers [becoming] more numerous and behaviour more decorous, though it was never stilted." In 1928, the restaurant was bought by Italian immigrant, Rinaldo Massoni. Renamed as Café Florentino and now with a distinctly Italian character, the restaurant attracted political leaders, socialites and members of the artistic elite. Diners were dazzled by the famous murals painted by students of Mervyn Napier Wallace in the Tuscan Renaissance style. As early as 1929, Melburnians were introduced to espresso coffee with the huge, steaming, espresso machine direct from Italy. The success of the Florentino was such that it even provoked changes to Melbourne's liquor laws, with the Bistro referred to in Hansard!  In the late 20th century, the restaurant changed hands a number of times and, as fortune would have it, ended up with another passionate Italian family, the Grossi's, in 1999. 


Melbourne Curious: Beginning as a wine cafe in 1900, the Florentino has an incredible history. How do you maintain a sense of heritage and tradition as a modern-day restaurant? 
Guy Grossi: To bring character to a place, you have to embrace the past and celebrate its origins as well as play with the present. A sense of heritage is evident throughout Grossi Florentino - in its murals, leadlight windows, the parquetry floors. Our food, concepts, and product is however, very progressive. 

Grossi Florentino is often described as a 'Melbourne Institution.' It is interesting that a restaurant so integral to the history of Melbourne is based on Italian food and culture. What impact do you believe Italian food and wine has had on Melbourne?
Melbourne is a multicultural mecca. This city's colourful migrant history pervades many of this city's attractions and industries - food, fashion, sport are all aspects that showcase our unique variety of customs. For Italians, food is a forte. This is one of the great things Italians have had to offer. It has been embraced by all the community and made into Melbourne's own. 

Do you have any views on preserving the heritage of Melbourne's buildings while still enabling progress in a modern-day city?
Preserving is really important. The city of Melbourne is a living and breathing museum - its  façades tell stories. We need to take pride in protecting our city's stories and preserving this sense of romance. The heritage of a city is its backbone. Some of the most beautiful cities around the world blend the old with the new with integrity. 

Do you have a favourite building or space in the city of Melbourne?
 The top end of Bourke Street for its old-world charms - it buzzes with amazing food, theatre and fashion. 

Is there any particular building or space in the city that you dislike?
No, all of Melbourne is worth exploring. 

What is your favourite thing to do in the city?
I love to spend my morning scouring the Vic Market for fresh, seasonal produce. Then it's time to sit down to enjoy a great coffee before meeting family over a warming dinner - overlooking the city's streets and laneways is amazing at night. 

What is the ideal way to spend a night out in the city?
On a rooftop with friends, family and beautiful wine. 

If you did not live in Melbourne, where in the world would you like to be?
Florence or New York. The former for its love affair with romance and the latter for its wit and class. 

Describe your Melbourne:
Intelligent. Style.

Guy Grossi's passion for Italian food and Melbourne's heritage is palpable. It is exciting to see such care being taken in the preservation of an important Melbourne Institution. As Guy mentions, "some of the most beautiful cities around the world blend the old with the new with integrity." This sums up the precise ethos at Melbourne Curious. It is truly exciting and inspiring to witness this being implemented at Grossi Florentino - where progressive food and business are blended seamlessly with the preservation of history and culture. 

What do you think of Grossi Florentino and Guy's position on Melbourne's heritage?

Many thanks to Guy Grossi and his team for agreeing to my interview. 
Grossi, Guy and McGuiness, Jan, Grossi Florentino: Secrets & Recipes (2003) 
Grossi Florentino Website:

Photo Credits:
Grossi Florentino 


Amy Hughes said...

Gillian! I am impressed. An interview with Guy Grossi! Fabulous. Keep up the great work :D

Gillian said...

Thank you Amy!

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel

Gillian said...

Merci beaucoup, Daniel!

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