Matilda review

After four years, Matilda knows exactly what it's about.
After four years, Matilda knows exactly what it's about. Photo: Jason South

159 Domain Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141

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Opening hours Thursday-Sunday 8.30am-3pm, 12pm-2.30pm; daily 6pm-late
Features Bar, Licensed, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Breakfast-brunch, Business lunch, Degustation, Events, Gluten-free options, Groups, Long lunch, Open fire, Outdoor seating, Pre-post-theatre, Private dining, Romance-first date
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 03 9089 6668

New restaurants are exciting but there's a glorious pleasure in visiting a place that's been around for a while, knows exactly what it's about and can put its energy into delivering a consistently satisfying experience. That's how it feels at four-year-old Matilda. 

Owner and chef Scott Pickett has opened half a dozen places (Smith Street Bistrot, Chancery Lane and The Continental Sorrento among them) since he launched this South Yarra beauty in 2018. It says a lot about his ability to find and retain good people that Matilda has such poise and energy.

Timeless design also helps. The dining room, tucked in at the rear, is a handsome den done in timber and leather. To get there, you walk by the open kitchen where fire pits, an off-set smoker, a wood-fired oven and a rotisserie are the glowing backdrop for the chefs.

Comte custard at Matilda.
Comte custard at Matilda. Photo: Jason South

There's a confident presence about it all, a balance between earthy and monumental. Accomplished waiters and sommeliers ensure the experience thrums, which is especially notable in a climate of short-staffed restaurants.

Head chef Aleksis Kalnins drives a menu anchored by dishes that became classics as soon as Matilda opened. There's the spanner crab, its meat mixed with pickled apple and creme fraiche and scooped back into the upturned shell where it's dressed with buttery crab sauce and seasoned with finger lime and pigface, a native succulent.

Warm flatbreads are on hand so you can make your own fancy sandwich. The luxury product turned messy hand-snack says something about the approach here: it's upscale but unbuttoned.

Tarte tatin topped with vanilla ice-cream.
Tarte tatin topped with vanilla ice-cream. Photo: Jason South

Cooking with fire has been at the heart of Matilda from the beginning but time has brought more finesse. Australian wagyu is cooked over four different types of heat. It's seared directly on coals, then grilled over flames, then cooked in the wood-oven, then held in a hot-box before slicing to serve. The creativity and control is extraordinary.

Duck is a signature and again sees fire used with subtlety and skill. It's hot-smoked over cherry wood, then blistered in an ironbark-fired oven to render the fat and turn the skin crisp and glassy.

At the moment it comes with mandarin-spiked duck sauce, charred mandarin and a compote of Davidson plum; leg meat is turned into rillettes and served alongside. It's all so good: duck a l'orange turned up to 11. 

Spanner crab mixed with pickled apple and creme fraiche and scooped back into the upturned shell.
Spanner crab mixed with pickled apple and creme fraiche and scooped back into the upturned shell. Photo: Jason South

Matilda isn't cheap but I don't find it hard to see the value here. Having said that, I've never seen a $600 dish before.

The uber-premium 1.8kg tomahawk wagyu is supplied exclusively to Matilda by local producer David Blackmore: suffice to say you're not eating it by yourself, nor are you eating it every day. It's selling, too.

The tarte tatin has been on since day one but winter is the best time to eat it. Pink Lady apples are baked over caramel, encased by buttery puff pastry, and topped with vanilla ice-cream to serve.

It's a supreme rendition, utterly enjoyable and an ever-joyful culmination of a meal at reliably marvellous Matilda. 

The low-down

Matilda 159 Domain

Verdict Accomplished fire-cooked fine dining

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https://matilda159.com/