History of Grossi Florentino

A building at 82 Bourke Street described as a brick house with four rooms and kitchen occupied by a Dr Phillips first appeared in the Melbourne rate book in 1853. The history of Grossi Florentino really began in 1871 when Samual Wynn took over and ran the business as a wine shop. His family lived upstairs in a room that is now named after them – the Wynn room. By 1928, Sammy had prospered enough to concentrate on wine growing and he eventually moved on to salvage Coonawarra Estate vineyard and to create the great wine company. Prior to leaving Samual Wynn established Café Denat.

Rinaldo Massoni purchased Café Denat in 1928 and changed the name to Café Florentino and the style to Italian. The restaurant was hugely successful and by the end of the 1930’s was enjoying an international reputation.

In 1935 the property adjoining Florentino was purchased and the upstairs dining room was extended and reopened in time for Australia’s 150th birthday celebration. The renovations offered a grander dining room to house the completed mural works. Each wall table had its own telephone but prices were a shilling higher when the doors reopened. The ceiling plaster work was created by Picton Hopkins and softly lit by hand forged wrought iron lighting by a young Emilio Gavotto. The examples of his fine craftsmanship can still be seen as the lamps still grace the walls positioned over each wall table in the mural room.

The Florentino was not above controversy as it was a Chef from the Florentino that introduced the first ever Cassata made in Australia. Not such a huge innovation until it was realized that it was made with the illegal additives of Maraschino, Alchemes and Crème de Menthe.

In 1941 Rinaldo Massoni passed away and his son Leon took over the restaurant. Leon maintained the traditions his father established with the help of his partner, George Tsindos and lifted the Florentino reputation to even higher standards.

In 1954 the license of the Florentino changed from being an Australian Wine License to a restaurant license, which meant the illegal selling of imported wines, spirits and cognacs, that was reputed to have taken place, could now be sold openly.

George and Leon opened “The Cellar” introducing a new level of dining to Melbourne. It leaned towards a more informal style of eating. Leather backed stools were arranged along a counter on one wall and wine was dispensed from a long bar and food from an opening in what looked like the top of a gigantic wine vat. The idea caught on.

Three years later, on the other side of the staircase the pair opened the “Bistro Grill”. At this stage it was thought that upwards of three thousand customers a week crossed through the doors of the Florentino. Leon remembers when one night during the peak of service a main gas meter blew up and everything had to be cooked on a single oil stove.

Leon sold his share of the Florentino business to his partner George, but went on to own many successful businesses in his own right and none more so than “Ristorante Massoni” in St Kilda with his partner in business and Chef, Pietro Grossi and son Guy. Pietro Grossi brought his family to Melbourne in 1960 after being recruited by Mario Vigono to work at Mario's hotel in Exhibition Street beginning an Italian culinary legacy.

With George Tsindos at the helm of the Florentino the list of clientele for the day would have undoubtedly included numerous celebrities, politicians and the cream of Melbourne’s high society as they simply enjoyed eating in such splendid surroundings. The business continued to grow in strength and its reputation firmed as the country’s best Italian restaurant and the only place to order a chocolate soufflé for dessert.

It was said that tears flowed as the staff were told of the impending sale by George Tsindos to Mr. Branco Tocigl. His departure in 1979 ended a 50-year era at the graceful eating house that had become a favourite to many notables including the then Prime Minister Mr. Malcolm Fraser.

The Grossi Family

Pietro Grossi migrated to Australia in 1960. His first drink in Melbourne was enjoyed at the Florentino Cellar Bar. The Grossi family came from a heritage of food and wine from the vineyards of Southern Italy. They brought their traditional preparation of home grown ingredients and Italian style to Melbourne. From a family of chefs Mario Vigano recruited Pietro to Australia to chef at "Mario's" in Exhibition Street, Melbourne.

Pietro and others like him pioneered the Italian cucina and culinary renaissance in Melbourne, not just through their cooking, but also through their culture and way of life.

The Grossi family tradition has continued with Pietro's son Guy also learning his father's craft. Guy experienced the Italian cucina first hand through his traveling days in Europe, from his father, his own training and from family heritage and tradition.

The Grossi family has become a well known name over the years with the operation of their restaurants. In 1999 the family, Pietro and his children and their spouses, took over the restaurant Grossi Florentino.

The Florentino with its history, sense of place and authenticity, is the perfect home for the Grossi family to continue their deliverance of Italian food, culture and hospitality.

Guy Grossi

Guy Grossi began his career at an early age. He began to learn under the watchful eye of his father, Pietro, a renowned chef himself.

Guy has perfected his craft over the years at some of Melbourne’s finest including Tolarno, Massoni Ristorante and Two Faces with Herman Schneider. He has dedicated himself to becoming a master of Italian Cucina. Guy’s attitude to Italian cooking equally reveres the fundamentals and fires of creativity. Guy has received an award from the Italian President in recognition of his service to the Cucina Italiana abroad.

Beginning with Quadri, Guy successfully opened and ran a number of fine Italian Restaurants across Melbourne, including Epoca, Pietro and the famous Caffe Grossi before he fulfilled a long burning ambition to take over one of Melbourne’s most renowned Italian restaurants with a pedigree that stretches to the late 1920’.

Guy Grossi, owner and head chef of the renowned Grossi Florentino, knows that the world’s great cuisines provide scope for ceaseless exploration while remaining true to a cultured tradition. At this Melbournian institution of fine dining; which enjoyed its diamond jubilee in 2003, Grossi takes the traditional Italian palette and lets his imagination go, creating inspired dishes from a splendid variety of produce. It is there he runs the elaborate production of his three kitchens like a finely tuned piano. Each note rings with the tune of his vast experience, passion, innovation and humour.

“Once you get involved with food, your mind never really switches off it “

Guy Grossi

“You talk about your intimate body or your intimate thoughts. You have to have the courage of your thinking”

Mirka Mora

Mirka at Tolarno Hotel

A vision by Guy Grossi

In an increasing culture of being superseded by new models and styles, Guy Grossi shows us that some things are worth retaining and only increase in worth. Their value being in the wealth of cultural history and learning they have provided us with, and the possibilities they offer us to keep pleasuring from them in the future.

In 1965 Georges Mora bought Tolarno hotel and then announced the news to his wife, Mirka. It was to be hotel, restaurant, gallery, residence and studio for Mirka.

Mirka was raised in Paris as was her husband Georges. She was obsessive in pursuing her inspiration to get to Melbourne after reading Antoine Fauchery, the photographer, whose colorful life is depicted in the novel Scenes de la vie boheme by Henri Murger, which she had secretly devoured at the age of sixteen.

Tolarno was not the first café opened by the Moras. In 1954 Mirka’s Café opened in Exhibition Street. The contemporary art society was born upstairs from the café which later moved to Tavistock Place behind Fletcher Jones with exhibiters such as Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, John Brack, Laurence Daws, Robert Dickerson, Joy Hester, Roger Kemp, John Percival, Clifton Pugh and Edwin Tanner. Later in 1958 larger premises and a real restaurant, Balzac was opened in Wellington parade. It was the first restaurant in Victoria to get a 10pm license.

42 Fitzroy Street St Kilda had been a boom house built in 1884, by a mayor of St Kilda, who in 1886 converted it into a genteel guest house complete with croquet lawn on the front garden. In 1928(or 1933) a modern rear wing was added of 29 bedrooms designed by G.G Cronin. The space was renamed after a pastoral property south of Menindee, on The Darling River in the Riverina, New South Wales – Tolarno.

The modernist six bedroom wing and the present restaurant were added to the Victorian house on its former front garden and croquet lawn in the 1940’s. Building commercial premises in the front garden of former mansions is not uncommon in St Kilda pattern.

The Moras converted the rear dinning room into an art gallery. Mirka used the hotel bridal suite as a studio. The Moras built a new kitchen and toilets at the rear.

Mirka painted murals on the walls. Tolarno French Bistro, Gallery and hotel opened later in 1965. It was then the trendiest French Bistro in town and the gallery held a remarkable series of art exhibitions.

Mirka and Georges were pioneers of so much that have since become normal in culinary and cultural life.

In the late 1970’s Tolarno was sold to Leon Massoni and his wife, son of Rinaldo Massoni, the founder of Café Florentino. A Melbourne icon and institution which now runs on the cutting edge of culinary and hospitality excellence as Grossi Florentino with chef Guy Grossi.

Leon Massoni took over the running of Café Florentino from his father and did so successfully before moving on. Leon ran Tolarno French Bistro with flair and professionalism for over fifteen years. This fashionable eatery was filled and refilled every night with hundreds of joyous patrons. It was during this time that Pietro Grossi’s long association with Leon began. Pietro was hired as head Chef with another outstanding Melbourne Chef Jim Fatsouros.

Pietro Grossi, father to Guy, was born in a small village in the south of Italy – Carusino.

As a young man he moved to Milano to find work and became a chef. He had recently married and with a young child when scouted to come to Australia with his new family to cook at Mario’s Hotel Exhibition Street Melbourne. Mario’s Hotel was owned and run by Mario Vigano, a forefather of Italian culture and cucina in Melbourne, Grandfather to the one and only Mietta O’Donnell.

It was not long before Guy followed in his father’s footsteps and the most youthful part of Guy’s cooking career was spent with his father behind the stoves of the Tolarno kitchen.

Since those days Guy has become one of Australia's leading chefs with international acclaim.

“I hope people will remember their own memories and I hope its one way of doing good in this world, by speaking the truth”

Mirka Mora

The restaurant now to be known as Mirka at Tolarno hotel was closed a year under going renovation. Peter Elliot, architect and curator of some of the cities most noteworthy public spaces, was involved in this re in carnation.

Guy chose Peter because he is one of the city’s most widely liked and respected architects. He is acclaimed for his work at Melbourne University, The Carlton baths, opening up RMIT to the civic spine, some parts of The Old Melbourne Goal, The Old Melbourne Observatory, (opposite the Melbourne Shrine) opening into a visitor center and café and converting the former public records office in Melbourne’s legal district into a law school for Victoria University.

With Peter’s own personal admiration of the site, it was clear that the utmost thought, attention and care have been devoted to bring back to the people of Melbourne a truthful eatery full of continental atmosphere and food.

The old gallery walls have been revealed to create a space that has effectively run again as a gallery; providing an opportunity for young artists to display their work freely. It is also the Mirka At Tolarno function (Gallery) room.

This function room is dressed differently to the dinning room and is host to a wide range of events from cocktail parties to business meetings to enchanted evenings of celebration and festivities.

On one side operates the Dining Room. A room of fifty or so seats with timber tables, imported table ware and surrounding Mirka art. This room epitomizes ‘Melbourne’ style. A style that has for generations been infatuated and embellishing all things continental, this room is chic as a French perfume house and as honest as the Sicilian sausage maker.

On the other side is the bar where meals are available all day.

The smell of coffee and the clatter of wine glasses are the comforting and welcoming chimes of a bar where no one feels out of place, from baby chinos to absinth shots.

This amazing piece of Melbourne has come full circle in so many ways with the restoration of the murals by Mirka, herself, who paints the room for the first time since 1963. Mirka was commissioned to do new work to enhance the site and with the ownership of Guy Grossi, his truthful food style returning to the kitchens in which he first started cooking the ‘sofrito’ with his father.

“When I walk into my kitchen, the first things I look for are my pot, my olive oil, the onion and the garlic. The pot goes on the stove: I pour the olive oil, cut some onions and garlic and throw them in. The music of the sizzling onion and sweet smell as the oil draws out the sugars are food for the soul”