Matilda, Scott Pick­ett’s new wood-fired foray south of the Yarra, de­liv­ers ca­sual el­e­gance.

Scott Pick­ett’s new wood-fired foray south of the Yarra de­liv­ers ca­sual el­e­gance in spades, writes MICHAEL HAR­DEN.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

Wood-fired warmth gen­tly ca­ress­ing your face: it’s a great open­ing gam­bit. Noth­ing says wel­come quite like it, par­tic­u­larly on a frigid Melbourne night with the heat com­ing from glow­ing em­bers in an open kitchen about to cook your din­ner. How all this heat-in-face will play dur­ing sum­mer re­mains to be seen, but given how metic­u­lously con­ceived every­thing else is at Matilda, chances are the mat­ter has al­ready been con­sid­ered.

Con­fi­dence in owner-chef

Scott Pick­ett’s first south­side restau­rant is not mis­placed. There’s the track record (ESP, Estelle, Saint Crispin, Pick­ett’s Deli), but there’s also the roast Mace­don duck, dry-aged for 14 days, hot-smoked on cherry wood, then glazed with leather­wood honey and fin­ished in the wood­fired oven so its skin crack­les and shines. The crown is brought to the ta­ble to be ad­mired, then whisked away for carv­ing. It re­turns as slices of pink juicy breast with a glazed drum­stick, skew­ers of grilled duck heart, charred or­ange slices and a burnt-or­ange purée. On the side are lit­tle parcels of duck leg, pick­led cab­bage and choy sum that you eat with your fin­gers. The play of flavour and tex­ture is su­perb, and it’s gen­er­ous. What’s also re­mark­able is how pre­cisely the duck is cooked, com­ing from a spank­ing-new kitchen us­ing the some­times tricky medium of wood and smoke.

Pick­ett has done his homework. He bought the kitchen equip­ment – smok­ers, oven, grills, rôtis­serie – months be­fore it would be in­stalled in the restau­rant un­der the new bou­tique ho­tel United Places. He and his team fired it up off-site to dis­cern its strengths and foibles. The in­tel has been put to good use on a menu where smoke and char are al­most al­ways present but never over­played.

The bone mar­row in the crust on the Rusty Wire oys­ters is gen­tly smoked, as is the bonito cream that fills the tiny, bril­liant tartlets over­flow­ing with fat or­ange salmon eggs. Sweet Fraser Is­land crab mixed with crème fraîche, fin­ger lime and sea blite and served in a crab shell is ac­com­pa­nied by but­ter flavoured with prawn pow­der and cute round flat­breads, fin­ished on the grill so they ar­rive slightly smoky. Then there’s the Matilda tarte Tatin, a su­perb,

glossy, sticky, chewy, charred ver­sion of the species made with Pink Lady ap­ples and teamed with ice-cream made with smoked cream and milk and in­fused with vanilla bean. Don’t miss it.

Matilda does this kind of sheer en­joy­ment well; dishes are un­fussy, driven by qual­ity in­gre­di­ents, and served in gen­er­ous pro­por­tions. There’s an un­der­cur­rent of ca­sual lux­ury about the place, both with the in­gre­di­ents on the plate – name-brand beef, oys­ters, fish roe, kan­ga­roo (the tartare with fer­mented pep­pers is an­other must) – and a gor­geously de­signed room that po­si­tions the restau­rant as a club­house for South Yarra lo­cals and those who love them.

Projects of Imag­i­na­tion take the de­sign hon­ours here and they’ve gone for moody light, mus­cu­lar tim­ber, leather and brick. There’s an Aus­tralian 1970s pal­ette in both the dining room and in Os­car’s, the down­stairs bar, with beau­ti­ful Aussie-tim­ber join­ery, il­lu­mi­nated dis­play cases of art­fully placed pro­duce and brown leather up­hol­stery sit­ting un­der a scalloped ceil­ing of ochre-coloured per­fo­rated ply. It’s glam­orous and com­fort­able, pos­sess­ing the kind of buzz that was once the hook for its Do­main Road neigh­bour, The Botan­i­cal, in its Chris Lu­cas-Paul Wil­son hey­day.

The drinks list suits its crowd and genre, fo­cused on the clas­sic end of the wine­mak­ing spec­trum with­out ex­clud­ing great wines from small mak­ers like Wil­liam Downie pinot noir or S.C. Pan­nell’s “Amuse” white blend. Oth­er­wise it’s qual­ity la­bels from known Old and New World quan­ti­ties, with plenty of lo­cal-friendly sub-$100 prices that can make a sec­ond bot­tle seem both rea­son­able and fea­si­ble on a week­night.

Matilda is the name of Scott Pick­ett’s daugh­ter, Os­car the name of his son. You’d imag­ine there might be pres­sure to suc­ceed, if just to avoid ru­inous ther­apy bills later down the track. But there’s no sign of ten­sion or over­reach here. This is Pick­ett’s most fully re­alised and re­laxed restau­rant, com­fort­able in its skin, con­fi­dent in its out­put, great fun to eat in. South Yarra is lucky to have it.

Top, from left: Matilda head chef Tim Young, ex­ec­u­tive chef and owner Scott Pick­ett and chef Steve Nairn. Right: tart­let of salmon roe and bonito cream.

Clock­wise, from left: Pink Lady tarte Tatin with vanilla bean ice-cream; the open kitchen; Mace­don duck with charred or­ange.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.