ANTHONY HUCKSTEP REVIEWS MATTEO DOWNTOWN
NOT every restaurant can be groundbreaking or knock your socks off with the best thing you’ve ever put in your pie hole. Those experiences are to be savoured, but the best restaurants are ever reliable, consistently dishing up value for the outlay and reinforcing the trust they’ve won on each visit.
Matteo Downtown (sibling of Matteo Double Bay) won’t blow your mind, nor your budget, but you can bank on it giving you a consistent smart-casual Italian encounter that’s inspired by the big all-day diners found in Rome and Milan, and it’s as dependable as the dawn of a new day. There’s a large bar to get the engine started with an aperitivo, alfresco dining, bar seating, intimate booths and all the theatre of an open kitchen. There’s a sweet, genuine nature to the service and the booze list runs deep – perhaps to draw an armbending six o’clock crowd before they board the sardine tins home.
On the pans is chef Orazio D’elia, who explores Italy’s south and north on a menu featuring antipasti, pizza, pasta and more substantial mains. But what sets it apart is the mozzarella bar. A handful of dishes build on the craft of New South Wales producer La Stella Latticini, its cheeses made and delivered daily – the pick sees stracciatella dotted with small, sweet prawns crudo. Among the pasta, al dente squid stars in squidink fregola topped with plump mussels and grape tomatoes and, although my pizza dough is a bit undercooked, the fresh tomato sauce provides a lovely base for the Margherita, simply topped with basil leaves and fior di latte.
Large, split Skull Island prawns reveal their savoury side after moments in the wood-fired oven, arriving sprinkled with bottarga. Secondi also include pork cutlet Milanese, rib-eye on the bone and whole snapper. If you’ve pushed the boat out and just need something dainty to finish, the trio of Sicilian ricotta treats – cannoli, cassatina and a doughnut – is ideal.