Hospitable flair: Matteo's is a stayer.
Hospitable flair: Matteo's is a stayer. Photo: Ken Irwin

533 Brunswick Street Fitzroy North, Victoria 3068

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03 9481 1177
Opening hours Sun-Thurs 6pm-9.30pm; Fri-Sat 6pm-10pm; Sun-Fri noon-3pm
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, BYO
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Brendan McQueen
Payments AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos

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 seafood tasting plate. Photo: Ken Irwin

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.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)