20 Bond St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 7am-midnight; Sat 5pm-midnight.|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9241 2008|
Italians have an excellent grasp of what is good for you. "I had a friend come in who was feeling very down," says Cristian Poddine, the hospitable manager of Matteo Downtown. "So I gave him one of our bombolone to have with his coffee."
Once treated, the patient walked out smiling. Of course he did.
You'd have to be dead not to respond to a yeasty cloud of soft, plump, golden doughnut, filled to bursting with rich creme patisserie and dusted with icing sugar.
Most Italian food – and Italian hospitality – is designed to make your vita more dolce, your life sweeter. It's what they do. And with 270 seats across bar, cafe and restaurant, Matteo Downtown clearly wants to be all things to all people who work, live and shop in the CBD, opening for breakfast, coffee and pastries, lunch, aperitivi and dinner.
Modelled on the Adored Group's Matteo Double Bay, there's an outdoor terrace for alfresco dining and drinking, and a vast, moody dining room that could be tucked into a grand Milanese galleria.
The Acme Design team has gone to town with precision parquetry, a spine of handsome padded banquettes, long marble-topped tables, and half-curtained windows. Almost as much space is devoted to cooking as it is to eating, dominated by two stately wood-fired Forni Visciano pizza ovens under the watch of head pizzaiolo Luca di Napoli, with executive chef and co-owner, Orazio d'Elia, at the pass.
The pizza is crowd-pleasing, with well-proved, slowly risen dough, a serious crust, and a list of 16 options. The classic napoletana carries no more than tomato, fior di latte, capers, olives and anchovies ($22), and needs no more than that, either.
But for me, there is life here beyond pizza. It lurks on d'Elia's separate Mozzarella Bar menu in the form of a squishy, creamy snowball of La Stella Latticini cow's milk burrata on a mossy nettle puree, topped with sea succulents and bright orange trout roe ($21) or a raggedy splodge of stracciatella dotted with translucent "ama ebi" scarlet prawns from Western Australia ($21).
A trio of crudo di mare ($32) showcases a single, pristine scampi topped with trout roe, a mound of truffled tuna tartare topped with crisp seaweed, and a long fillet of waxy raw kingfish decorated with blood orange and olives. Flavours are clean, clear and compatible.
Pasta is a focus, conscientiously cooked and generously served. That irresistible Roman classic, pasta alla gricia ($26), sees house-made bucatini threaded with crisp tangles of guanciale (cured pork cheek), showered with pepper and pecorino. So simple, but every element hits home, especially with a bottle of gamey, fruity, 2017 Farr Rising Gamay ($95).
Desserts are riffs on regional favourites; some on the kitsch side. Breakfasts see the counters lined with soft brioche panini and Italian pastries (all baked goods are a highlight), while the restaurant fights back with a lovely Neapolitan pastiera "porridge" ($16) of imploded wheat grains cooked in milk and topped with fresh berries, or a milk bun stuffed with warm cotechino sausage, fried egg and asiago cheese ($18).
It's not easy being a corporate in these uncertain times. But if high-energy hospitality and attractive Italian comfort food that runs all day and night is what you're after, I prescribe Matteo's. Just take two bombolini and call me in the morning.
Vegetarian: Six all-veg pizza, one pasta, and of course, caprese salad and sides.
Drinks: Rare Italian artisan beers, multiple sightings of negroni and a far-ranging wine list with loads of Italians (and two on tap) mixing it with the locals.
Go to dish: House-made bucatini alla gricia, $26.
Pro tip: Drop in for an aperitivo (4-6pm weekdays), and the kitchen will send out complimentary snacks.