Reviews

BY: LARISSA DUBECKI - 2016

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 . . . . 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 McQueen's elegant brand of (dare we say) fusion Japanese has been replaced by Lo's bolder take on Asian flavours and European technique - evidenced by his take on the perennially daggy American-Chinese favourite known as General Tso's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. . . . . . Here's to the next 22 years, Matteo.

Delicious Top 100 2016/17 Rating: 15th

FOR more than two decades Matteo’s has held court over the “quiet” end of Brunswick St; a study in draped elegance, old world charm and the fundamentals of hospitality chiselled from a time when restaurateurs ruled and customers came first. But that’s not to say Matteo’s is old. Quite the opposite. With a new chef at the helm — Buddha Lo — Matteo Pignatelli has given his eponymous restaurant life anew. The broad French-Japanese of years past has been replaced with a keener Asian focus, where such dishes as General Tso’s fried quail — a generous and cheeky take on san choy bao — and a brilliant prawn laksa ravioli are the opening acts for crisp-roasted duck served with duck neck sausage, say, or blushingly pink lamb teamed with miso-spiked eggplant. That dessert might feature corn flake ice cream shows the kitchen’s youthful humour; that the wine list is one of best — and best value — found in the state shows experience and smarts gleaned over the years. Matteo’s has long been the complete package; it now comes with even more delicious.

Age Good Food Guide 2017 Score: 16/20, Two Hats

The effortless elegance of special occasion dining . Matteo's is an old dog up to new tricks, as the venerable restaurant - dark leather, white tablecloths, velvet drapes - replaces long-time chef Brendan McQueen with his one-time understudy. Kah-wai (Buddha) Lo maintains Matteo's melding of European and Asian flavours, ramping up Mooloolaba spanner crab salad with avruga caviar, cooling its jets with a nuanced yuzu mayonnaise and dashi jelly, before adding a perfect Zen garden of microherbs. The Japanese seafood plate is a triple threat of Ora King salmon cured in kombu, tempura Balmain bug tail with Sichuan salt, and kingfish sashimi with bonito mayonnaise. Mains are unashamedly meaty, with a roasted Western Plains suckling pig saddle atop a subtly masterstock-poached pork leg with just-pickled onion and roasted cosberg as a foil, and a grilled scotch fillet with a rich tapenade. To finish, a playful 'Eureka nugget' - peanut butter parfait, salted caramel ice-cream, cherry and honeycomb - is pure gold.

Gourmet Traveller 2017 Australian Restaurant Guide

. . . . Entrees are impressive, inventive and generous, from Mooloolaba spanner crab with yuzu mayonnaise, pickled shallots dashi jelly and Avruga to a Japanese inspired seafood platter starring a Balmain bug tail enveloped in a fried nori brushed with five-spice Sichuan salt. Main courses can over-sprawl, but there is ambition and pleasure in Chinese-roasted dusk breast, presented with a disc of duck neck sausage and a kerchief of bresaola, and lent sweetness by corn in pureed, grilled and baby forms. The Eureka nugget, comprised of a peanut butter parfait, salted caramel ice-cream, chocolate brownie and honeycomb, layers richness on richness. A towering delight

Herald Sun Review by Dan Stock 15.5/20 - April 2016

New chef Buddha Lo takes reins at Matteos in North Fitzroy . . . For the past decade Brendan McLean was the man in charge of the kitchen, serving up a menu of broad French-Japanese influences to much acclaim. Buddha completed his apprenticeship under Brendan here before working under Raymond Capaldi at Hare & Grace. He broadened his horizons and experience in London working within the Gordon Ramsay empire and has now returned to take over the reins from Brendan, starting a new chapter in the storied restaurants history. And if what we ate this night is any indication, its a welcome return. My dinner date, always quick with a smile once the first glass of wine is poured, usually less fleet-footed with compliments once food is served, kept muttering genius, genius into her prawn laksa ravioli, and Im sure if James Reyne hadnt startled her out of her reverie she quite possibly wouldve licked the plate clean of the creamed corn in between still saying same with the duck. Restrained at every turn, dishes are constructed with a razor sharp, attuned palate adjusted to nuance. That the French-Japanese of his predecessor has been replaced by an Asian influence is clear in that butter doesnt do all the heavy lifting, neither does salt. Having said, the baby corn that rounds out a quartet of corn served with the duck creamed, charred, a crisp shard and bitter shoots - is poached in the good stuff and is completely swoon-worthy as a result. As is the crisp-roasted, tender pink breast meat that comes with a dense duck-neck meat sausage, with a sliver of ruby rich breasola adding a porky hit of salty depth. Its excellent ($44). So, too, king dory, a plate pretty and dramatic. Under a twisted crown of crisp vermicelli seasoned with prawn, two fillets pan-tanned on a single side snuggle on a bed of diced mushroom and pork. A sticky-thick, midnight-black miso sauce completes a restrained yet totally satisfying take on fish and crisps ($43). That laksa, for instance, shows a deftness of touch; rich yet light, it didnt overpower the delicate sweetness of the prawn that generously fills the pillows of ravioli. A crisp-fried soft shell crab adds perhaps unnecessary crunch but no faulting the generosity of the serve ($24). The wine list - a glorious doc reflecting a cellar built up over two decades but with great drinking sub $50 a bottle if youre not in the mood for a three-figure Burgundy, with an equally precise by-the-glass offering - is almost reason to visit alone, as is the ginger-soy-garlic marinated, togarashi-seasoned quail to start thats perfectly fried to a pink-innerd crisp ($24). As handsome as a Fitzroyal dowager, the room still looks out onto the stretch of Brunswick St that hasnt changed a great deal in the 20 decades the restaurant has been here. Its still removed from the bustle up and down the road; still a destination, now with even more hits than memories. And though I could take or leave service - while well-drilled erred to the brusquely formal and where some warmth would soften and loosen the experience - this was one of the most surprisingly excellent meals Ive enjoyed for some time. Buddhas return has made Matteos a must visit. Yet again. Perhaps just pack some earplugs, just in case Mariah and Cher are in the house, too. 15.5/20

Gourmet Traveller 2016 Australian Restaurant Guide

Matteo's looks - and sounds - every inch the classic Italian restaurant, but behind its grand Victorian facade lie a few surprises. The dining rooms, all high ceilings and plump upholstery, are as you would expect, but the moody mezzanine bar in black leather and soft lighting is to the contrary. The wine list tops out at Krug and Grange, but also offers a generous choice of well-priced, interesting global wines. The biggest surprise is chef Brendan McQueen's assured cooking, which is broadly French-Japanese fusion with a few detours in other directions. The result is genre-bending plates such as fried master-stock quail with creamed coconut rice and son-in-law quail eggs, or tempura zucchini flowers with a silken tofu sauce. Often it's a case of taking familiar comfort food and giving it a lift, as in a roasted saddle of suckling pig with char siu leg slices and Sichuan pickled vegetables, or a textbook ice-cream parfait transfused with yuzu and black sesame.

Age Good Food Guide 2016 Score: 16/20, Two Hats

Matteo's, which marks its 21st anniversary in 2015, may seem a bit of a throwback as you sit in the luxe dining room, watching poised staff glide between linen-draped tables quietly explaining a menu that plays out in traditional entree-main-dessert format. But Brendan McQueen's food, which melds Euro technique with Japanese ingredients, is anything but staid. Expect genre-defying constructions so artfully plated it almost seems a shame to destroy them. Almost. Witness an entree that encases Balmain bugmeat, in nori and beancurd skin - a posh spring roll - perched over a delicte stir-fry of iceberg, fennel and celery with a burnt butter hollandaise. A main arranges slices of five-spice roasted duck breast against a cylinder of panko-crumbed black rice, with rolls of steamed cucumber standing sentry over a slick of sticky hoisin. Perhaps finish with strawberries macerated in rosy syrup, their sweetness offset by ponzu jelly and topped with black-sesame-studded meringue sticks, arranged like kindling on a delicious fire.

Age Good Food Guide 2015 Score 16/20, Two hats

For two decades Matteo's has offered fine dining with a cheeky wink. A heritage building, plush fittings and stiff linen bestow gravitas, and the food is ambitious and original, but proprietor Matteo Pignatelli sets a genial, light-hearted tone. Longtime chef Brendan McQueen's food melds European and Japanese techniques and ingredients to create complex, pretty dishes. A seafood entree that counterpoints pert, juicy scallops and a quivering wedge of polenta-crusted tofu is a sublime balance of firm and yielding textures, sweet and funky flavours. A keen eye on the seasons shows in an autumnal mushroom medley featuring silky Japanese steamed custard with shitake, and a Francophile puff-pastry pie bursting with portobello mushrooms. Desserts are extravagant: dainty layers of confit apple are attended by clouds of cinnamon 'snow' and earthy rhubarb ice-cream. Matteo's longevity points to a professional approach but it's the spry spirit of the restaurant that endears it to Melbourne diners.

Gourmet Traveller 2015 Australian Restaurant Guide

In this hipster age of sharing plates, faddish foods and industrial interiors, it's sweet relief to know restaurants like Matteo's still thrive. Judging by its popularity after 19 years, sometimes all Melburnians crave is a glamorous dining room and charming service. Just don't expect Matteo's to be predictable. The impressive wine list ranges from Beechworth to Burgundy, but prices are remarkably reasonable (from $35 to Grange). The menu is French-accented Asian, with a keen eye on the seasonal. Perhaps light and lovely steamed spanner-crab dumplings with pickled green mango and a piquant tom-yum style sauce, or a barramundi fillet - crisp skinned and supple of flesh - with kimchi and a calamari salad. This is a restaurant for all seasons: special-occasion dinners, lazy Sundays, bargain-express lunches. Or prop up the bar any time for aperitifs and sweets, such as the terrific tropical trifle.

Age review by Dani Valent, April 13 2014 - 4stars

A mature and satisfying restaurant culture needs buzzy newies, but it also needs restaurants like Matteo's. For 20 years, Matteo's has balanced consistency and innovation, striving for high standards ahead of saturation coverage. Proprietor Matteo Pignatelli grew up in the northern suburbs, making pizzas in his family's takeaway shops; he's a genial presence here and in Melbourne's broader hospitality scene. He's watched them come and go, and through it all, he's welcomed diners into his glamorous restaurant. Chef Brendan McQueen has led the kitchen for 10 years. His food is original, mixing French and Japanese (and other Asian) flavours and methods. The combinations are robust rather than whimsical. Think miso and bisque, roulade and daikon, or polenta-crusted tofu. It can be a bit out-there, but it can also be sublime. A seafood tasting plate stars seared tuna, dotted with spiky wasabi mayo and anchovy-salty olive tapenade. Both condiments amplify the richness of the fish. Also on the plate, a dainty carpaccio of octopus tentacles is topped with octopus and prawn dumpling bound with bechamel sauce. The third element is a terrine of citrus-cured salmon; its creme fraiche and fine herbs say France, but the Chinese broccoli-leaf wrapper tells a different story. I think some plates have too much going on. Rolled rabbit mousse is a good medium for spicy Korean flavours, but a sauce and two condiments introduce coconut, tomato, kimchi, coriander, parmesan and lime, muddying the integrity of the dish. An earthy dessert demonstrates McQueen's knack with textures and sweet-savoury collisions, partnering chestnut and mascarpone cream with cocoa nib ''granola'' and beetroot sorbet. There are plainer dishes (steak, chocolate fondant), but you can almost hear the resigned sigh that accompanies the imperative to put these crowd-pleasers on the menu. The seafood tasting plate. The wine list offers interesting drinking and excellent value. Service is smooth and gracious. Creature comforts include upholstered chairs. Longevity requires working the angles. Matteo's has function spaces, a relaxed Sunday lunch offering, and respectful vegetarian and children's menus. It's professional and hospitable, offering sophistication with a cheeky wink, and plenty of reasons to return. http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/eat-out/review/restaurant/matteos-20140414-36lpb.html

Age Good Food Guide 2014 Score: 16/20, Two Hats

There's a glorious interplay between formality and flamboyance in the Matteo's dining room, an irreverent but plush vision of draped lighting, plum velvet seating and cerulean-blue curtaining. Brendan McQueen's Asian-inflected food - elaborate, inventive, elegant - suits the surrounds. Yellowfin sashimi, dressed with wasabi 'guacamole', glistens, though technicians will be even more impressed by the accompanying kumato tomato. braised but structurally sound and stuffed with an olive and seaweed tapenade. Boldly flavoured mains might include duck done two ways. the breast roasted with a blood orange and hoisin sauce, the leg as a pressed-confit patty, its richness offset by an iridescent nashi pear fondant and Sichuan-pickled cucumber. A 'Golden Gaytime' is a playful closer. Service gets both the small things (say, pouring by-the-glass at table) and big things (a spirit of hospitality) right. http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/eat-out/review/restaurant/matteos-20130827-32c14.html

Gourmet Traveller 2014 Australian Restaurant Guide

Lavish fabrics and glamorous lighting evoke European opulence in the dining room but the menu reveals a surprising Japanese accent. The same can be said of the exceptional drinks list, which pits well-priced wines against a sharp selection of sakes and beers. A seafood plate exemplifies this global cuisine, teaming gravlax-inspired ocean trout, ginger-cured kingfish and chawanmushi custard doused in dashi broth. Scallop and rice-noodle cannelloni are similarly well travelled, turning an Italian classic on its head with a saucy side of cucumber, ginger, bonito and black truffle. As main courses, bacon-wrapped veal works better than pan-fried hapuku fillets overpowered by yuzu sauce. There's comfort in the dessert menu, which includes confit apple slice and rhubarb ice-cream and a trio of chocolate mousse, fondant and ice-cream cleverly paired with Pedro Ximnez or a Moo Brew dark ale.

Age Good Food Guide 2013 Score: 16/20, Two Hats

The sense of theatre that accompanies a meal at Matteo's begins the moment you pull aside the thick peacock-blue curtains and enter the dining room, an opulent space of textured wallpaper, plum velvet chairs and vivid paintings. Polished waitstaff draped in plum-coloured aprons stick to the silver-service script, delivering menus and pouring wine with aplomb. Brendan McQueen's modern cuisine leans towards the Orient, with dishes such as soy-glazed salmon tataki, smoky unagi (teriyaki eel), and fall-apart lamb shoulder with miso-glazed eggplant playing starring roles. Even the fresh-baked bread has an Eastern lilt, served with silken butter and a Japanese seasoning of seaweed, sesame and crustacean shells. More crowd-pleasing than cutting-edge, desserts might include vanilla bavarois with poached peaches, or a tasting plate of chocolate fondant, berry tart and nougat parfait. A stellar wine list plays a supporting role, loaded with Asian-food-friendly varieties (riesling and pinot noir), with a commendable spread of prices. http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/eat-out/review/restaurant/matteos-20120901-2ac1t.html

Age Good Food Guide 2012 Score: 16/20, Two Hats

Matteo's is the dapper, slightly eccentric aristocrat of Melbourne fine dining. A deluxe interior with purple chairs, chandeliers and gilt mirrors promises indulgence and refinement, but the menu shirks the safe European fare one might expect in such an elegant environment, opting for more flamboyant Asian fusion. That prosaic Australian-Chinese dish, lemon chicken is given a different take at Matteo's, the breast meat fried Japanese Karaage style and served on a bed of coconut rice coated in lemongrass sauce. The interpretation may not be for everybody, but it's inspired. Equally memorable are Balmain bug tails, king prawns and scallops sautéed in yakitori sauce, coated with toasted sesame seeds, beneath knockout ‘coleslaw' of shredded radicchio, Chinese broccoli, wong bok, daikon, crispy rice noddles, jellyfish and taro chips. Dessert is more conventional, perhaps a decadent oozy-centred chocolate fondant with a scoop of luscious pistachio ice-cream. Service is warm and polished.

 
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Matteo’s will be closed for its annual Easter break from Good Friday 25th until Easter Monday 28th March 2016.

We will reopen for dinner on Tuesday 29th March 2016 [with normal trading hours thereafter].

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