The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival doesn’t just run events for two weeks in March – the rest of the year they promote food and wine with themes and events such as the Spring Graze.

The Spring Graze is a gathering of more than 60 events throughout September across Victoria, all with the theme of celebrating the new season and to promote the Put Victoria on Your Table philosophy by showcasing Victorian produce.

At Matteo’s, their event is called Victoria in a Bento Box and it’s a lunch special of seven tastes of Victoria plus a glass of wine for $44.

Matteo’s is a restaurant which definitely brings truth to the adage ‘don’t judge a book (or restaurant) by its cover’. The name conjures up a traditional Italian trattoria, the sumptious flocked wallpaper, fine crystal glassware and starched tableclothes seem to indicate a high-end European restaurant – and yet the food is Asian fusion.

And it’s brilliant. Surprising, innovative, sophisticated, delicious. Oh!

Our ‘bento box’ consisted of a large platter lined with a banana leaf and placed with winsome Japanese ceramic bowls containing the following tastes:

Coconut laksa and banana blossom soup, mini sesame prawn brioche toast – with the seafood hailing from Warranambool. This was a soothing, fragrant soup and the prawn toast added an interesting textural dimension – it was almost like a dumpling. One of my favourites.

Steamed chawan mushi custard, sake poached drunken Lilydale chicken, gingko nuts and soya beans. The chicken was really drunk, to the point of being overpowering, but I like the addition of the gingko nuts in the ultra-smooth steamed custard.

Kim chi spicy picked wombok cabbage using wombok from the market gardens of Werribee. I’m not a fan of kimchi normally (limp pickled cabbage ugh) but I liked this crisp julienned version. A modern take on a classic Korean dish.

Inari bean curd filled with coconut rice from Kerang, spring onion and ginger. I loved this! I’d describe it as a  sweet rice pudding dessert hidden under a savoury bean curd hood. Really unexpected flavours but it worked.

Teriyaki glazed Skipton smoked eel, boiled egg and potato, pickled plum and bonito mayonnaise. The pickles cut through the richness of the teriyaki sauce and the eel was perfectly cooked – not rubbery at all.

Pork kakuni slow cooked master stock Buninyong pork belly, pork crackling, Japanese mustard sauce. As we were given chopsticks and not knives and forks, the meat had to be so tender that it could be shredded with one hand. It passed the test with flying colours. I also appreciated how the crackling had been turned into a coarse dust – so that you didn’t have to wrestle with it using only chopsticks. Clever.

For dessert, black sesame creme caramel, pear cider and cinnamon poached nashi pear from Mildura. Anything black sesame is a winner with me and this smooth baked custard had just the right hint of almost savoury sesame underneath the sweet caramel. The still crunchy cubes of nashi cut through the richness, leaving a refreshing sweetness on the palate. I think I’m going to try and replicate this dish (somehow) at home.

Matteo’s Victoria in a Bento Box is available until 30 September, Monday – Friday lunch. Their usual lunch special is also $44 with a choice of two courses and a glass of wine.

For more fine dining in Fitzroy, try Cutler & Co.

Matteo’s, 533 Brunswick St, North Fitzroy +61 3 9481 1177
Sunday-Friday 12-3pm
Daily 6-10pm

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