WHEN the famous Lucio’s in Sydney closed in 2020 members of the Galletto family were unsure if, or where, they would open another restaurant.
The Italian restaurant in Paddington had become an institution since it was opened by Lucio Galletto in 1983.
The Gallettos were not to be out of restaurants for long. Matteo Galletto was ready to open a seafood trattoria at the Noosa Marina in Tewantin by the end of 2021 and Lucio’s Marina, named after his father, recently celebrated its first anniversary.
Noosa was high on the list when Matteo was looking for a location for a new venture.
Lucio was always a regular guest chef at the Noosa Food and Wine Festival organised by Noosa restaurateur Jim Berardo and used to bring the family with him.
“From about the year 2000, every year there was a festival on, he’d come up, bring up one of his chefs and do cooking demonstrations,” Matteo says.
“It was a really a very special time for him, a special time for the restaurant, to get to know people here, and he always really admired the way Jim could bring all these people together. That was just a small connection to Noosa that we always had.”
Matteo decided to rethink the future after his wife, Dieuwke Albertsma, gave birth to the first of their two young children.
“It makes you look at 10 years out, 15 years out to give you a little bit better longer view of things,” he says.
“We stepped back and looked at the business, the restaurant scene in Sydney and how it was moving, and what it takes to provide for a family in Sydney these days, all these things, and we realised we needed a larger venue. Lucio’s was a small 60-seater restaurant and we’d really reached the peak of what could be done in that space.”
The Gallettos put an end-date on Lucio’s after guiding it through the first COVID lockdown.
“It was very sad, but we knew the time was coming up for that space,” Matteo tells salt.
He and Dieuwke were impressed when they caught up with Noosa.
“We just saw the growth of Noosa, the expansion into the Junction and Gympie Terrace extending down the river. We saw a lot of potential,” he says.
A year in, Matteo feels the trattoria has found a good rhythm but it has not come without hard work.
“Even with me, 15 years working with my father, continuing a restaurant that has been around for 40 years, when you start new it’s a whole different game, so it’s taken us a while to find our feet and get the product where we want it to be, but now we’re firing
on all cylinders.”
Matteo says head chef Alberto Vitassovich, who shares similar philosophies on food, hails from the Liguria region of northern Italy, just like Lucio. Restaurant manager, Christian Viant, has relocated from Sydney to join the team. Matteo credits both Christian and Alberto as being a key part of the trattoria hitting its groove.
Lucio moved to Australia in 1977 after falling in love with an Australian girl, Sally, who had been visiting her sister, Lucio’s cousin’s wife.
Lucio’s parents, uncle and aunt had pulled themselves out of poverty in the 1950s by selling seafood from a shack on the bank of Italy’s Magra River.
Lucio continued the family tradition by starting his restaurant after moving to Australia.
Matteo worked in Lucio’s with his father. He also spent a year in Liguria working with family members who continue to run the family restaurant there, now a bustling 300-350 seater.
Although he studied arts and commerce, restaurants stole him back before he finished his degree.
“I love restaurants. I love to go out, I love to experience restaurants and then when I’m going out, and I can’t find the experiences I want, I want to create them for other people,” he tells salt.
He opened a restaurant in partnership a few years ago before returning to Lucio’s and acknowledges that starting a restaurant is very different from working in an established one.
“It was a luxury to be able to come into Lucio’s and just take a step back and think, ‘Okay, how can we do things a little bit better every day?’ whereas when you’re setting up a new business you have to figure out what you want the business to be,” he says.
“And then you open the doors, and after the first night you throw that whole plan and start again, and then you keep doing that for about three or four months. Every night you throw away the plans.
“We’re trying to do something quite different for Noosa. We really try and focus on the seafood and novel ways to present it.”
Matteo and Lucio had often talked about turning Lucio’s into a seafood restaurant.
“We would go over to Italy every couple of years from as young as I can remember to visit the family,” Matteo says.
“The first stop was always the grandparents and then the restaurant. As we got older, even as kids, the seafood was always amazing.
“We always came back and Dad and I would always lament we can never find this food here.”
These days, Matteo and Alberto talk about dishes from Italy that they miss and how to put them on the menu.
“Our seafood platter is a completely raw platter, for instance, so we’ve got fantastic West Australian scampi, small grade. We serve them raw,” Matteo says.
“Italians come in and see raw scampi on the menu and they’re transported back to Italy.”
“That’s very gratifying when you see Italians come in and appreciate dishes you forget about because you don’t see them much.”
“That’s been very rewarding, to put these things on the menu that we’re really passionate about and see people appreciate them as well.”
Lucio has mostly retired from kitchens but Matteo hopes he might one day do a spell on the floor, charming customers.
In the meantime, a portrait of him, one of a handful of artworks from the original Lucio’s, watches over the trattoria.