This is how it’s done… 22 years in the biz and Fitzroy’s glam fine diner is as smooth as ever in its new Asian-influenced incarnation
Maybe it’s the name. Matteo’s, named after owner and floor maestro Matteo Pignatelli, creates expectations of cinemascope Italian food. It’s an impression reinforced by the heavily European trappings of the rather grand, old-school restaurant anointing the strip where Brunswick Street shifts down a gear into St Georges Road. You know the deal: velvet drapes and double-linen tables, chandeliers and a menu that sticks to those quaint dining relics of entrees and mains.
The only cannelloni you’re going to encounter here, though, is stuffed with a cloud-like seafood farce and arrives with a main of black cod (the rich, oily fish made famous by Nobu-san), which has been marinated in white miso for 72 hours. The fish is a stunner. The miso lends sweetness and depth, and it’s well partnered with a bunch of Eurasian curveballs including a rich bisque and a thicket of prawn cracker noodles on top, like fried linguini.
The head chef responsible for all this is Kah-wai ‘Buddha’ Lo, who did his apprenticeship here under long-term incumbent Brendan McQueen, went off to do the London Michelin thing, survived working under Gordon Ramsay, and has now returned as the still terribly young prodigal son (he’s 25) to take over the reins.
McQueen’s elegant brand of (dare we say) fusion Japanese has been replaced by Lo’s bolder take on Asian flavours and European technique – evidenced by his take on the perennially daggy American-Chinese favourite known as General Tso’s chicken, here done with crisp-fried quail and little pouches of braised lettuce stuffed with jasmine rice, red capsicum, diced chicken and water chestnut, like a tribute version of san choy bau. The oyster sauce anchoring the whole thing is a thing of finger-licking beauty. Less overtly Chinese is rabbit loin wrapped in smoky bacon with carrot puree and pickled mustard seeds giving little bursts of acidic brightness. Another mash-up comes by virtue of the suckling pig – two perfect slices of crackle-hatted porky goodness with slippery ho fun noodle and a fine dice of prawn, water chestnut and garlic chives, like a Cantonese-accented surf-and-turf.
Service is perfunctory rather than intuitive and warm – it would be good to get some real enthusiasm going on the floor rather than the forced “and how are we tonight?” brand of formality that went out with the invention of flared pants. But the restaurant is warm (literally – the heating bill must be eye-watering), the wine list is a deep and lovely thing to wade around in without necessarily getting a second mortgage, and the setting is enough to make you reach for your poshest accent. Here’s to the next 22 years, Matteo.
533 Brunswick St
|Opening hours:||Lunch Sun-Fri noon-3pm; dinner daily 6pm-10.30pm|