The best Italian restaurants are often appealingly small in scale, offering just a handful of carefully selected dishes in an intimate space.
Matteo Downtown, however, is a convincing argument in the other direction: the space is sprawling, with teams of chefs efficiently moving around an open-air kitchen and woodfired ovens. The menu is also extensive, stretching to an array of cheeses, antipasto sharing plates, pasta, meat and seafood and pizzas from the woodfired oven.
Any place with a dedicated mozzarella station already has a lot going for it, and Matteo Downtown's version offers the likes of an elegant cow's milk burrata ($21) which sits atop a dark green swirl of wild nettles and sea vegetables is topped with glossy, vivid orange pearls of trout roe.
Waiters in smart blazers add to the upscale feel and the cocktail list has plenty of sophistication, not to mention numerous varieties of the king of cocktails: the negroni. Try the well-balanced Downtown Negroni ($19), which offers just a slight tweak to the classic with added bitters. The Matteo Spritz ($19) is the type of luxurious tipple you can imagine sipping poolside at a resort, the rhubarb bitters and blood orange make their presence felt without dominating.
For a touch of theatre, opt for the classic beef tartare ($26), which is chopped and dressed on a tableside trolley and can be mopped up with slices of schiacciata, the scrumptious Tuscan flatbread. It's simple but refined, the kind of dish that is deceptively hard to pull off successfully and that goes to the very heart of Italian cuisine.
As well as a negroni list, the drinks menu features a spritz selection that changes with the seasons — kicking off with the Downtown Spritz, made with Aperol, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit bitters and homemade cucumber soda — house wines are on tap and a broad-ranging, 300-strong collection of bottled wines, which make a masterpiece of the dining room's back wall.
It makes sense to opt for at least one of the woodfired options on offer, whether that's a classic pizza or a main of tiger prawns ($35) served simply with a wedge of lemon. Sourced from Skull Island off the Northern Territory, they're plump, flavoursome and slightly smoky.
The Downtown team is just as handy with the pans as the woodfire oven; the free-range quail ($36) is a delight, with crisp skin giving way to tender meat. Sides of endive, slightly blackened at the edges, and a farro salad, add a welcome bit of textural variety to the dish.
If you're still not sated, desserts on offer include the Sicilia, three bite-sized sweet morsels from the Mediterranean island, including the obligatory cannoli and an unusual dome-shaped delicacy with a neon green shell and a mascarpone centre.
All this just scratches the surface of Matteo Downtown's menu, but you'll likely be inspired enough for a return visit.