The many parts of a restaurant experience that come together in a few short hours are always difficult to capture. Ultimately they translate to an overall whole that dictates your first words to describe the experience, and the likelihood of whether you’ll be back quickly, or ever at all.
What sticks out initially is how we got to Matilda; or rather how we didn’t get to France-Soir. Thinking about an important occasion I had a sudden feeling I’d like to go back to try France-Soir so immediately Catherine called mid-week about 8.45pm to make a booking. The person who answered the phone with no introduction, and asked booking details with no friendliness and a fair bit of rudeness, left us so underwhelmed that we called back the next day to cancel.
Sure, it was during service, but what were we to do when the restaurant only takes phone bookings? You would think they would at least be adept enough to say the name of the restaurant and their own name and then use a couple of please’s and thank you’s. On the flip side a new and trendy restaurant with an online booking service provided a much better introduction to their restaurant!
On the evening of our dinner we were ready well in advance of our booking. We called ahead to the restaurant and the greeting was professional and courteous. The manager welcomed us to arrive early and said we would be seated on the bar and if that was okay to come down early. We love eating on the bar so we came immediately.
Adding to this initial dialogue, the entrance is warm and inviting, and with an equally warm greeting from the staff, plus some unusually endearing service, we were already feeling thoroughly charmed. This is the restaurant of Scott Pickett who has in recent times earned acclaim with Estelle by Scott Pickett in Northcote. Matilda is the culmination of several years of thought and planning, with a focus on cooking with fire, and native Australian ingredients and produce (without being over the top).
The menu is modern with several dishes that can as easily be enjoyed to yourself, as they can be shared. With the promise of dessert always requiring some planning, we decided to have one starter each, share an entrée, and share one of the larger mains (that are for two). Catherine’s starter was a delicate tartlet of salmon roe with bonito cream, that had a taste that met its immaculate presentation. Equally as delicious, but nothing of the subtlety of the tartlet was my charred ox tongue, which was outstanding.
As we were finishing our glasses of Larrent-Perrier champagne, we enjoyed our entrée of spanner crab. Again, presented with flair, but this time rusticity, the crab was absolutely beautiful, lifted by butter seasoned with dried prawn which is smothered over charred flat bread.
At this point we moved on to a bottle of 2015 Bannockburn Pinot Noir which is a tremendous expression of what Geelong wineries can do with their terroir. Combined with the duck for two, this is a little piece of heaven. The Macedon Ranges duck, presented with two generous strips of breast meat each, a leg, and a “duck taco” on lettuce, plus sides of potatoes and broccolini, is superbly touched by the flames, promoting the gaminess of the meat, but brought into balance with the charred blood orange.
We had been chatting to the staff on the bar, and a number of floorstaff who were all doing a great job at somehow providing a consistent experience even when our main waitperson took a break for a good portion of our meal. We always seemed to be in good hands. One of the chefs working the larder behind the bar was preparing the Pink Lady apple tarte tatins and we simply couldn’t resist ordering one.
The tarte is a great dish to share, especially when we ordered an extra scoop of the smoked vanilla bean ice cream to avoid any arguments! The texture of the apples find balance between being too firm and too soft; the tarte is beautifully cooked with not too much sweetness in the pastry; and the ice cream provides the traditional creaminess that you love with this type of classic dessert.
There is so much to love about this restaurant early in its life. The staff are engaged and seem to enjoy being here, motivated by the offerings of the kitchen. The fitout is classy and modern without unnecessary fine dining flourishes. The food is meeting a script that sounds simple, but when put under the microscope shows a high level of thought and knowledge.
In this part of Domain Road, across from the Botanical Gardens, good things can last the test of time. Based on this first taste of Matilda I have little doubt we will be visiting a fair bit in coming years, and hopefully decades. This restaurant has the potential to be hot for a long time and the use of fire is only one of the reasons.