A civilised CBD lunch


495 Collins Street, Melbourne (next to Rialto, William St side)

Restaurant w/ open kitchen

On Thursday I went out for lunch with ex-officemate-I who recently changed jobs. With me working down the King St (AKA Beiruit) end of the city and ex-officemate-I now working in Southbank our lunch options were a little limited. Given that we don’t see each other every day anymore we wanted to go somewhere nicer than we’re used to for a weekday lunch.

In the end we headed to Merchant, a restaurant at the bottom of Rialto which was opened by Guy Grossi some time last year. Being a Cellar Bar groupie from way back I was very excited about this place when it first opened.  Unfortunately, I’ve been there a couple of times for lunch or drinks and while it’s always been good I’ve always felt like there was something a little off (I think it has a lot to do with the constant attempts by wait staff to up-sell). Today’s experience was a lot better though.

If you walk around Rialto it’s pretty easy to find Merchant, the distinctive giant gondola and flag outside are a bit of a giveaway. Personally I think the landmarks have a bit too much of a cheese-factor.

Welcome to not-so-little ItalyApparently they also require a lot of cleaning.

The cleanest gondola in the west

As the exterior probably gives away Merchant is the kind of place that can come across as trying just a little too hard. It’s the gondola, the clearly very well thought out eclecticness of the interior, the not-very-italian front of house staff greeting you in italian as you enter, the list goes on.

Trying too hard or not though, on the whole I like Merchant. The interior is sleek and modern with some interesting touches. It has a much more sophisticated vibe than most of the places within a block of King Street. As hard as they try lunch at Merchant may not quite get you to Italy, but it does feel a long way from the Rialto. More than looking good though, the place has good food at not overly excessive prices.

Today we ordered two entrees to share, the saffron arancini ($9, two in a serve) and the almond crusted coffin bay scallops ($10). Unfortunately the scallops aren’t pictured as we were served the marinated octopus ($15) instead of the scallops and didn’t really notice until we were half way through.

Octopus and arancini

The arancini were simple with a saffron rice and cheese filling but were tasty with a perfectly crispy shell.  I have a preference for large arancini with a ham & pea or bolognese filling, but these certainly get the job done as a starter. The calamari was a bit disappointing, while the dressing was really good the meat itself was a little tasteless. That could just be me getting upset about missing out on my scallops though.

For mains ex-officemate-I ordered the Bigoli Mori (a large spaghetti) with duck ragu ($20) which went down very well. The ex-officemate was also interested in the menu’s offering of polenta served with the same ragu, in fact the menu has an entire selection of mains which are essentially polenta with sauces.

Duck ragu in motion

I felt like a little mid week carb loading so I went for the gnocchi with spiced wild boar ragu ($18.50). I have to say that while it was definitely the best lunch I’ve had in the city for a long time, a number of my gnocchi were almost unpleasantly gooey (and watery) on the inside. The sauce was tender and flavoursome but I feel the wild boar is a little of an intentional novelty, I may not be a meat expert but I certainly couldn’t have picked it from a slow cooked beef.


My one real complaint with Merchant is that each time I’ve been there I’ve found that the staff are some of the most persistent up sellers I’ve ever come across. Personally I find it quite off-putting and end up feeling a little harassed but as long as you go in with a conviction that you will only order what you want it’s not a particular issue.

On the whole I like Merchant and think that the quality of food and the atmosphere (including a range of little enclaved seating areas) meant that it would be a great place to take a suit-type for a lunchtime power date. If Gerard ever actually works in Melbourne we’ll definitely be lunching there.

Secluded spaces

Merchant on Urbanspoon

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