It’s no secret that Matteo Bruno appreciates some good balls humour. His growing collection of Meatball & Wine Bars are known, affectionately, as City Balls (Flinders Lane), Rich Balls (Swan Street) and, his latest, Smith Balls (Collingwood).
Bruno admits that the ball gags aren’t to everyone’s taste. “The restaurants aren’t family-friendly, and we cop a bit of flak for that, but that’s OK,” he says. “We have loud music and the lighting’s quite dark, but that’s all to create an experience for the diner.”
If the formula has its detractors, they’re outnumbered by its fans – hence Meatball’s relentless roll across Melbourne. The latest Smith Street store is soon to be joined by one in Windsor. The aesthetics carry through each venue; copper bars, exposed-brick walls, the same custom light fittings and stools.
Also unchanged is Meatball & Wine’s menu, with the same sliders, charcuterie and special lemon-scented meatballs on offer. “It’s a familiar, comfortable food that’s reasonably priced,” Bruno says. “The meatballs are made in each location, and they’re all inspired by Veneto, Northern Italy, where my mother’s from.”
The new venue does, however, have a few personal touches, including a large graffiti mural by Dan Wenn (via the graffiti-artists-for-hire agency 90 Degrees), an etched mirror by Matthew Collins and a huge neon that reads “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry”. Also new are negronis on tap, made in-house from West Winds Gin, Maidenii Vermouth and Campari. “They go down easily,” Bruno admits.
While South Balls is expected to open on Chapel Street later this year, Bruno’s got another project he’s almost ready to unveil: Ping Pong. He’s tight-lipped beyond the fact that it’ll be a Meatballs-like formula with another kind of cuisine. “It’ll be a very fun restaurant.”