Restaurant Review: Merchant

Location: 495 Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9614 7688
Cuisine: Italian
Overall Impression: 7/10
I was having a horrible start to the week so J brightened up my day by taking me to Merchant for a midweek lunch. We were incredibly excited because we love rustic Italian food.

Our love for it first started when A.H. started dating an Italian stallion who would visit us during the summer months. He was a brilliant cook and showed us the light. All it took was his handmade potato gnocchi, bowls of his 12 hour slow braised lamb and a couple of those deep fried sardines with a secret relish recipe from his nonna and we were converts. Before that moment, I have to confess I was naïve enough to think that Lygon Street was a true reflection of what Italian cuisine had to offer.

Today, while A.H. and Mr Italian Stallion have parted ways, our love for Italian food remains. 
Merchant serves rustic Italian food that I’m sure Mr Italian Stallion would approve of. The atmosphere is brilliant. When you walk in, the front of house staff ensure that you are transported into another world. By walking through those doors, not only have you walked into an Italian restaurant but you get the sense you could be in Italy.
The chefs in the exposed kitchen at the far end of the dining hall stop what they are doing and greet you a cheerful, “Buon giorno!” as you follow your host to your seat.
Once seated, we were served with crusty bread and beautifully delicious and aromatic olive oil. Already, it was a promising start.
Bigoli co l’anara
Bigoli de Bassan, duck ragu

My pasta was al dente (and we would not have expected anything less from a Grossi establishment) and the duck ragu was deliciously flavoursome and tender.
Conejo a la vecia
Braised Rabbit, pine nuts, sultanas

The braised rabbit was unfortunately slightly dry but the sauce it was covered in was deliciously hearty and had perfectly balanced flavours. The sultanas brought a lovely hint of sweetness to the dish.
Braised Cabbage

This braised cabbage dish was surprisingly, a stand out. Being a side dish, we had expected it to play a small supporting role but that could not be further away from the truth. The crauti was absolutely delicious. The mains we ordered happened to match the crauti very well and when eaten together it brought our main dishes to another level. It was also delicious by itself. There was so much depth and complexity to the flavour combinations. It was everything I loved about rustic Italian food. The cabbage was incredibly soft and tender and had absorbed copious amounts of flavour from what tasted like smoked bacon, sautéed onions and bay leaves.
It was a very good dining experience. Unfortunately, as our lunch hour had nearly come to an end, we could not stay for dessert. However, we will definitely be back to indulge ourselves in a more complete dining experience. For now, I look forward to dining at Merchant again in the not too distant future.
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