533 Brunswick St
Fitzroy, VIC 3068
Every year in December, Chris and I celebrate our anniversary, his birthday, and Christmas, all in the span of 2 weeks. Instead of doing 3 separate things, we usually just end up having one lavish session of present-exchanging and food-eating. But this year I had a bit of trouble picking the restaurant; out of all the ones I haven’t been to, I couldn’t get into any of the 3-hat restaurants, and all the 2-hat restaurants were divided up into untested newbies and older places I’m not so interested in. And 1-hat restaurants, well, it just doesn’t quite feel special enough, you know?
In the end I decided to go for a tried-and-tested option, and that’s how we ended up at Matteo’s. This European-Asian fusion has been around for yonks; I’m not sure of exact dates, but they’ve been receiving Chef’s Hats pretty much on a yearly basis since 1996, so that ought to give you an idea. Despite its age however, the interior of Matteo’s is far from tired. Rather, it has aged elegantly like a fine wine (or Maggie Smith), and the opulent surroundings were a treat on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
You’ll also have noticed that the interior photos above are not mine. I decided that from now on, whenever I eat at a super nice restaurant (as in the kind I go to about twice a year), I will use photos I find online instead. There are 3 reasons for this: one, my photos rarely do the beautiful interiors justice; two, I really don’t need to make a scene in a place with starched tablecloths, and three, I’m not paying $150 a head to spend half the meal stressing about my photos. However if these photos are yours, and you’re upset about my using them, please get in touch and I’ll remove them ASAP!
Instead of ordering a la carte, I’ve decided just to go with the Lazy Sunday Lunch Menu ($79pp) – a 4-course meal consisting of a selection of appetisers, an entree, a main, and a selection of desserts. After we had ordered, we were given what seemed like a quadruple serve of sourdough each. Aside from the usual butter and sea salt, we were also given a fragrant mixture of dried kelp and sesame seeds to sprinkle on our bread. I’m not sure I’d choose it over the timeless butter and salt combo, but it’s a creative addition for sure.
Our meal started off with 4 little bite-sized morsels to whet the appetite. The Ora King Salmon and Kingfish Tartare was as delicious as it was pretty, the plump pieces of fish mixed with creamy quail yolks and peppery micro herbs.
The Wagyu Bresaola, Enoki Mushrooms, Pickled Daikon was a highlight for sure. The soft, waxy slices of beef tasted absolutely luscious wrapped around the delicate fronds of enoki mushrooms, and the pickled daikon provided a sharp, tangy counterpoint to the fatty cured meat. It was a wonderful play on textures and flavours that had me yearning for a triple serve.
The Tempura Zucchini Flower with Goat’s Milk Feta wasn’t as exciting, but it was still tasty and well done. The flower was tender and sweet, lightly coated with frothy tempura batter and stuffed with creamy melted feta. I also really liked the extra dimension of flavour the macadamias brought to the dish.
The appetisers finished on another high note with the Balmain Bug Tail and Bean Curd Spring Roll. The beautifully sweet crustacean was wrapped in a crispy sheet of tempura battered bean curd, which further highlighted the delicacy of the bug tail. The rolls are served with a creamy, tangy aioli; have it with or without, it’s good either way.
There are two options for both the entree and main, which worked out perfectly, as we could try everything on offer without missing out. One of the most raved-about dishes at Matteo’s is the Paradise Prawn Ravioli, and I can certainly see why. The creamy laksa sauce is complex and aromatic, but rather than overpowering the prawns, it served to complement their natural sweetness.
Less exciting was the Pan-Fried Barramundi. As well cooked as the crispy-skinned fish was, and as nice as the creamy nori-infused butter sauce complemented it, there was just no getting around the fact that this dish was, well, boring.
The main of Pan-Roasted Flinders Island Lamb Fillet fared better. For starters, the plating was exquisite. The lamb was well-complemented by the umami-sweet Mongolian-styled sauce, and I especially enjoyed the contrast between the juicy fillet and the rich nugget of crumbed lamb neck.
General Tso’s Fried Quail on the other hand just confused me. The combination of fried quail and okonomiyaki drizzled with tonkatsu sauce tasted like an entree you can get at a standard Japanese restaurant. As much as I enjoyed the salt-and-pepper battered quail, in a city as globalised as Melbourne, this dish just doesn’t cut it as part of a fine-dining experience.
The meal concluded with a trio of mini desserts. The Peanut Butter Parfait was the unanimous favourite, the wedge of creamy peanut butter ice cream topped with crisp caramel popcorn. Buddha’s Black Forest was pretty good too, the chocolate shell hiding layers of dark chocolate sponge, white chocolate panna cotta, and a single cherry in the middle. Finally, the Yuzu Citrus Curd Tartlet made for a good palate cleanser with its bright, zesty flavour.
To put it baldly, I don’t think Matteo’s deserves its 2-hat status. Compared with the other newer restaurants around town, the food is neither inventive nor delicious enough to warrant its exalted status. In addition, I found the service to be average at best, though to be fair I can’t comment on the extensive wine list – one of the 3 criterion by which the hats are awarded, along with food and service. Given its age, I think Matteo’s must’ve been a revelation in fusion cuisine when it was opened. These days however, although the food is more than adequate, it fails to rise above the demands of the increasingly world-savvy and urbane population of Melbourne. Take your granny here, but don’t expect your hipster friends to be impressed.
Rating: 12/20 – matte-no.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.