Breakfast in Italy is kind of an oxymoron. Many food writers have commented on the curious fact that a country known worldwide for its cooking has such little regard for the first meal of the day. Coffee, perhaps with a croissant or brioche is the norm, but cooked breakfast? Not a thing. So how is it that a Neapolitan chef is doing some of the most interesting breakfast dishes the city of Sydney has seen in some time?
Orazio D'Elia's newly opened CBD location of his restaurant Matteo marks the chef's first foray into breakfast food. Most people associate his name with the notable pizze he cranked out of the wood-fired ovens at Da Orazio and Popolo, before doing more great things with slow-fermented dough at the original Matteo in Double Bay. But despite not eating eggs before noon until he was an adult, the chef has created a breakfast menu that's in touch with Australian tastes. Even more exciting is that he weaves in the flavours of his home country.
When I ask him about his own morning routine, D'Elia mentions coffee, sometimes a pastry and that time he got into trouble for ordering a cappucino after midday when he was visiting family in Italy. "My brother turned around and looked at me and goes, 'Cappucino at five o'clock in the afternoon? You drink a cappucino in the morning. You can tell you're becoming an American.'"
American, Australian, nevermind – it was a departure from tradition. The Italian attitude is a far cry from the far-ranging sweep of influences Australians are used to seeing on café menus. But, somehow, D'Elia has managed to push the envelope on the breakfast front, even by Australian standards. Avocado on toast, scrambled eggs and breakfast bowls might be missing in action at Matteo Downtown but look a little closer and you'll find plenty to love.
The "cacio e pepe" is the chef's response to the current fascination with the Roman pasta dish made with Pecorino Romano and pepper. In his version he folds a milder Sicilian pecorino through eggs, adds plenty of pepper and scrambles them. Smoked pancetta and miche bread round out the Italo riff on bacon and eggs. Elsewhere on the carte, the pastiera is in fact a wheat and grain porridge that's inspired by the Neapolitan dessert of the same name served at Easter, in which wheat berries are cooked in milk and mixed with ricotta before being baked into a pie.
Other dishes are inspired by the occasions Italians do eat eggs.
"A couple of the recipes on the breakfast menu are egg dishes that I learned from chefs when I first started cooking," D'Elia says.
One is eggs in purgatory, a favourite of D'Elia's grandmother. His version incorporates pork sausage from local producer Joe Papandrea and is served with focaccia baked in-house. The other is the crostone alla Fiorentina, along the lines of your typical eggs Florentine but served with white bread and finished under the grill to crisp up the béchamel and eggs.
It all feels innately Australian but still reminds you that you're eating at an Italian restaurant.
As for the rest of the day? Those Neapolitan-style pizze you know and love are available from noon til night, alongside pork cutlets, plenty of pasta and a whole menu of La Stella cheeses topped with the likes of nettle, prawn crudo and Kurobuta capocollo. Come evening, it's all about aperitivo, which runs from 4 until 6 and involves a selection of snacks that the kitchen changes up each day.
But with breakfast like this, why not try expanding your Italian vocabulary?
Matteo Downtown, 20 Bond St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9241 2008, matteosydney.com. Mon-Fri, 7am-midnight, Sat 5pm–midnight.