Matilda 159 Domain review

Spanner crab with grilled flatbreads and prawn butter.
Spanner crab with grilled flatbreads and prawn butter.  Photo: Simon Schluter

159 Domain Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141

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Opening hours Daily noon-10pm
Features Bar, Licensed, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9089 6668

Bust out your YSL clutches. Scott Pickett has hit South Yarra with a 100 per cent wood-fired restaurant and hot damn. Melbourne hasn't brought the Black Amex swagger like this for some time.

Filling the ground floor of the swanky new United Places hotel, the room is like an Australiana power suit. Beneath a barrelled ochre ceiling, hewn blackwood tables are girt by outrageously stuffed leather banquettes that give a sense you're sinking into an upright waterbed. Scott Pickett mans a pass, where many things are a-sizzle. In those seats, Melbourne's answer to the Kardashians are griping about their ungrateful teens and start-up businesses while stacking hot-buttered flatbreads with an indecent amount of crab.

Yes ma'am, Matilda is a scene and the place to be seen. And yet, beyond a moneyed interior, this is one of Pickett's more straightforward restaurants.

Scott Pickett at the helm of his fire-powered kitchen.
Scott Pickett at the helm of his fire-powered kitchen.  Photo: Simon Schluter

The impressive ingredients (fragrant Geraldton wax and muntries dotting dinner; David Blackmore wagyu and Macedon duck) mirror those currently appearing at degustation-only ESP (top of Pickett's restaurant pyramid). But it's a la carte here to encourage regular trade, and not too much fiddling has been done to the goods.

Here nothing escapes the flames. Spelt bread is speckled with burnt bran, giving a smoky, cereally edge. It's a $6 order but worth it. The cultured butter is aged to cheesiness, and a little pot of smoked, torn chicken thigh bound with burnt butter emulsion and chives turns it into a society picnic before dinner's begun.

On that. Pickett has never, ever been afraid of bringing the outrageously rich. So you can get your oysters natural, but perhaps you'd like to try them poached in shell thanks to a smoked bone marrow crust? It's a hot, rich, saline hit as off kilter and divisive as Dan Hunter's oyster ice-cream. The same might be said for a delicate tartlet holding bonito cream so generously piled with salmon roe you're half drinking the snack.

Mixed beets fragrant with native Geraldton wax.
Mixed beets fragrant with native Geraldton wax. Photo: Simon Schluter

For more cautious ocean paddlers, octopus tentacles get a three-day massage before hitting the grill fired with apple wood, emerging pink, tender and bacon-y, richly bolstered by a blitz of macadamia, burnt bay leaf and a little lime. Really though, it's spanner crab or bust. Red shells are everywhere. Inside, the fresh picked meat is bound with creme fraiche, dressed in snippets of tangy surf weed, chives and pops of finger lime which, combined with your griddled flatbread dripping with too much butter, makes for Melbourne's most luxurious taco.

That hands-on, share-friendly dining is something Matilda nails, and the reason you want a posse of four. Because along with the above you'll be wanting the ox tongue, shaved, rolled, charred and lifted with a pickle-forward sauce gribiche. Probably kangaroo tartare given tang from apple-like muntries, too.

When it comes to mains, the roasted innards and crisp crackling of a musque de provence pumpkin with artichoke puree and crisp kale, or that wagyu bavette nuttily seasoned with wattleseed are nothing to kick out of bed. Especially paired with full-flavoured potatoes cooked under a halo of smouldering hay, maybe the multicoloured roasted and pickled beets beetroot bursting with summer-in-the-bush Geraldton wax fragrance, and definitely the salad greens tossed in buttermilk and thyme oil.

Tarte tatin flecked with smoked vanilla.
Tarte tatin flecked with smoked vanilla.  Photo: Simon Schluter

But man, you'll be jealous of the half kilo ribeye and toasty, roasty pine mushrooms covered with shavings of their sweet, raw kin. And I guarantee you will pledge to return to get at the whole Macedon duck. Smoked over cherry wood, then blasted to finish, you're presented with a crown, all glassy crimson skin, liverish textured meat, with the roasted legs emerging with pickled cabbage, roasted celeriac, charred orange and leaves to fold into sort-of sang choi bao.

Those theatrics are great. But more so is service that nails the professional and personable line, and a wine list that straddles the interesting and investment bottle divide.

They've cast a broad net and we're caught.

Matilda cleary cares about its looks, but there's substance beyond the swag. Come to check out the emerald-tiled, beautifully timbered toilets downstairs. Stay for the darkly caramelised apple and smoked vanilla tarte tatin with bitter kick.

Score one, South Yarra.

Pro Tip: A separate bar downstairs is as much of a looker.

Go-to Dish: Spanner crab and flatbread $24; whole Macedon duck $96.

https://matilda159.com/