Matteo Zamboni is pretty fond of the view at Jonah’s. Given it looks out over Whale Beach’s pristine blue waters from a wall of windows, the view is hard not to love. But it’s also the view for Jonah’s culinary future that Matteo is excited about. And rightly so.
Matteo (Pilu at Freshwater, Ormeggio) is the former owner of the now-defunct Zambo in Surry Hills, which closed in May after just under a year in operation. Matteo’s concept-driven approach combined Italian recipes with Australian ingredients – or ‘Australian recipes’ with Italian ingredients – resulting in such dishes as “the lamington” (a savoury sandwich with “classic Italian ingredients, like balsamic and parmesan”) or “the pie that wanted to be a pizza” – deep-fried, pie-like pouches stuffed with a sweet red sauce and chunks of mozzarella.
Zambo’s closure, Matteo says, is not due to a lack of concept approval: the restaurant was building a loyal customer base and receiving good feedback. The restaurant’s location – at the former Marque site on Crown Street – was the issue, he says.
“When I first came to Australia, Surry Hills – I remember – was the place to go for fine dining in Sydney. The most interesting and exciting ones were in Surry Hills,” he says. “But I think things have changed and Surry Hills became more of a wine bar or casual restaurant area. So the food that we were doing was maybe not fitting with the area.”
There was the option to extend the lease or try to find a new space, Matteo says, and the team tried for the latter. He says, “100 percent, the decision was to move somewhere else.” But, despite searching “in quite a few places”, they didn’t find anything they liked.
So, naturally, Matteo decided to head back to Italy for the European summer. Now, he’s back in Australia and, as of early August, has taken the helm at Jonah’s – an iconic Northern Beaches venue that reminds Matteo of like-minded restaurants in Europe.
“It’s very northern beaches and it feels really special. It’s almost like in Europe – in Italy, we have these restaurants on top of lakes or the sea, with beautiful gardens,” he says. “That’s what I really liked about Jonah’s; it’s that European feel with the northern beaches location.”
Matteo is responsible for the entire culinary offering at Jonah’s, and is in the process of changing the menu. The entire change will be complete by the end of September and will include pomegranate-glazed quail with pumpkin seeds and baby turnip, as well as the burnt butter and sage dessert from Zambo (complete with Davidson plum). Jonah’s, Matteo says, was originally an Italian restaurant about 20 – 30 years ago, and he wants to be a part of bringing it back to that.
“The current owner is an Australian guy,” he said, “and he always had the idea that he wanted Jonah’s to be a little more Italian. It’s a very special place and, in my menu, I have to do something that works with the place.”
Matteo intends to bring some of the dishes made famous at Zambo to Jonah’s, “with maybe a little twist”.
Given Matteo is only a month into his new role, his focus is on bringing his concepts and approach to the Palm Beach institution. But he says that Zambo – while closed – is not dead.
“I didn’t abandon the concept of Zambo so, you never know; at some point, it could come back. It was all a very positive response – it’s just the location wasn’t right,” he says.
But for now, the attention is on his new kitchen – and that view out across the water.
“Before, I had less time and more decisions to make, but every decision was between me and my wife. It’s not like that anymore, but I am in a position where I can still put my strong input on the food that comes out of the kitchen. So I’m pretty happy at the moment.”
69 Bynya Rd, Palm Beach NSW 2108, Australia
02 9974 5599