Stepping onto Tedesca’s gravel path is like entering a farm – the expensive yet humble-looking kind that welcomes you in with a white Hamptons-style pergola enlaced with grape vines and perfectly undone stacked rows of firewood. There’s a farmer, fields of homegrown produce and a cottage for those lucky enough to snap up a coveted booking. And on this farm, all roads lead to the osteria.
If Tedesca were an osteria by Italian definition – a casual, unpretentious place serving wine and simple food – the interior fits the bill. The gobsmackingly large wooden door; the fire on and crackling; the tables set with rustic off-white and red-striped tablecloths. The space, designed by owner Brigitte Hafner’s architect husband Patrick Ness, feels like someone’s living room – cosy and centred around a big kitchen fire oven that commands your attention. It’s like being at a friend’s place (if your friend owned a really impressive property in Red Hill and makes otherworldly dishes out of humble produce).
Tedesca, meaning “little German girl” in Italian, was the nickname affectionately given to Hafner during her time in Guy Grossi’s Florentino kitchen. Clearly, the name stuck. Between Hafner and business-partner-slash-wine-guru James Broadway, you know you’re in good hands from start to finish.
Speaking of hands, the menu – handwritten by Hafner at the beginning of each service – loosely details five courses and no, it doesn’t begin with the usual variation of bread and butter. Instead, there’s a bite-sized small fried zippoli to line your palate – a tiny doughnut ball with the zingy surprise of an anchovy inside. This is the kind of one-biter you’ll be craving days, weeks and months after. The show begins with small mezze plates that heroes produce from the farm. Fresh slices of persimmon and shavings of jamon; fava dip ready to be scooped up with fluffy, herby, salty focaccia; mussels which need only to shine alone, just shucked and smoked, the waitress tells us, “on the nearby Flinders pier by Harry the Mussel Man”. The cellar is brimming with both local and European drops to match, many on the natural side and available by the glass, half carafe or bottle, depending on who’s driving.
From the wood oven comes roasted coral trout with such impeccably crisp skin it’d make for an ASMR meditation. It makes way for some form of pasta that always features in course three – on this occasion, perfectly executed tortelloni filled with small chunks of mortadella enmeshed in the nutty smoothness of mascarpone. And if there had to be a critique, if there had to be some reservation, it would be that there wasn’t more of it – or a slice of focaccia to soak up the remaining sage butter. You’d want to do as the Italians do. ‘La scarpetta’, that is – mop up the sauce on the plate. It almost feels blasphemous to leave it behind.
The flow continues with a hearty slow-cooked roasted lamb shoulder and a Lebanese-style rice kept warm inside the fireplace. Whilst jewelled rice can quickly lend itself to being dry, this one’s fluffy and fragrant with swirls of mince, currants and almonds all working into the mix, a testament to Hafner’s instinctual cooking that’s seemingly less about defining a cuisine and more about showcasing produce.
Given Tedesca only holds about 35 diners at any given time and is now only open for lunch service from Friday to Monday, you’d think you’re going to be rushed out of your sitting. Except, there is no sitting. There is no rush. There is no sense of urgency to leave. Perhaps as city-slicking Melbournians, we’ve become accustomed to watching the clock as we dine, our peripheral vision usually catching a line of keen diners ready to replace us the minute the bill is called upon. But perhaps that is the greatest beauty of Tedesca – the way it facilitates a confusing sense of time. The dichotomy of it both not existing and somehow being everything makes the experience what it is.
Under the watchful eyes of Hafner and Broadway, every drink, every dish is delivered when it should be. The waitstaff may look sophisticatedly relaxed in their chic uniforms of grey flannel trousers, crisp oversized white shirts and white sneakers (giving off an English garden countryside vibe, just to help you with the visual) but nothing is lax about the service. This is fine dining hospitality – to match the $165 per person price tag – but with ease and effortlessness. It may read like a seamless choreography, and it certainly feels that way.
Finally it comes, as all good things do, to an end. This time, with a warm apple tart, to combat a cold winter’s day, with its buttery golden pastry complemented by a mandarin ice cream care of the garden.
And while in theory everything at Tedesca seems effortlessly incidental, it is in fact, anything but. Everything’s considered in this magical land of culinary Oz, and this, it seems, is why Tedesca is worthy of its months-long waitlist. It’s an experience unlike any other, even amongst Victoria’s rich dining scene. And it is masterfully executed to keep us wanting more.