Matteo Zamboni is here to turn your idea of Italian cooking on its head. Oysters with lambrusco and ravioli with peanuts, mussels and quandongs are just the tip of the iceberg.
He's part of a new breed of young chefs - many of them Italian-born, most of them graduates of progressive restaurants in Italy such as Osteria Francescana in Modena, Cracco in Milan and Piazza Duomo in Alba - shaking up the cucina vera in Sydney. Japanese is a big influence at LuMi, Acme mingles Australiana with a raft of Asian ideas, while Zamboni, in his recent stint as head chef at the two-starred Pilu at Freshwater, turned pecorino into consommé and sandwiched suckling pig in a chickpea focaccia.
On Thursday he opens Zambo in Surry Hills on Crown Street. It's a site that was occupied for many years by Marque, a restaurant that, fittingly enough, was devoted to culinary courage and buccaneering of the first order.
The menu, a four or six-course prix fixe, uses classic Italian dishes and ingredients as a springboard but experiments with flavours and textures in its execution. Rigatoni Amatriciana still has tomato, onion and pancetta, for instance, but it's in the form of a crumble rather than a sauce.
The panna cotta, meanwhile, trades classic vanilla for peas. "Green peas are very sweet, so we thought why shouldn't we use them in a dessert?" says Zamboni. The soft panna cotta is topped with crunchy amaretti, with desert lime and pineapple bringing hits of acidity, says Zamboni. "The dish is full of contrasting textures and flavours."
Zamboni wants to play with preconceptions. Oysters are paired with lambrusco, a wine often considered cheap. "Oysters are premium ingredients and lambrusco is the opposite," he says. "I like the idea of putting opposites together."
Then there's The Pie That Wanted to be a Pizza. "I've been playing with dishes that are very familiar to Australians," says Zamboni. "The dish looks like a pie when you see it, but when you taste it, it has the flavours of a pizza." Zamboni plans to continue adding Australo-Italian dishes to the menu, and is currently experimenting with a twist on garlic bread.
The wine list is exclusively Italian and focuses on lesser-known regional Italian varieties, such as garganega from Veneto and Ligurian pigato. "We are starting with a small wine list and our plan, our mission, is to expand people's knowledge of Italian wine and to get them drinking varieties that are not very common outside Italy."
The restaurant's interior was designed by Zamboni himself, with the help of his wife Claudia. Structurally not much has changed, but light timber, gold details and walls covered in a Venetian marble-based plaster have brought warmth to the space.
"We wanted to create a warm environment in which people feel relaxed," he says. "That's what we think a restaurant should be about."
Zambo Restaurant opens on Thursday 22 September at 355 Crown St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 8937 3599, zamborestaurant.com.au