Come for the seasonal set menu and stellar wine list at this Mornington Peninsula restaurant, then stay the night at the on-site boutique accommodation.
How slow can you go? At Tedesca Osteria, a singularly charming restaurant tucked into the Mornington Peninsula’s hinterland, the answer is a resounding “very”. Located just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Tedesca is chef Brigitte Hafner’s passion project in Red Hill – Victoria’s answer to England’s Home Counties – where vineyards tumble prettily down hills and orchards look as though they were planted for the benefit of passing Impressionists.
Hafner first introduced Melbourne to the rich rewards of her slow-food philosophy at Fitzroy institution Gertrude Street Enoteca. At Tedesca Osteria she shakes down that promise with produce from her surrounding biodynamic farm and other local small producers, adds a wine list that celebrates the region’s famed cool-climate pinot noir, supplemented by spiritually aligned small European labels, and wraps it up in a captivating package. Factor in the boutique accommodation that is quite literally a walk down the garden path and it’s a pitch-perfect triangulation of food, wine and design – a dream Hafner describes as “a decade in the making” and that opened just three months before the COVID-19 lockdown was declared.
Image: Tedesca Osteria’s chef and co-owner Brigitte Hafner.
She and her architect husband, Patrick Ness, moved from Melbourne six years ago. “It was one of those magic moments,” she says of later buying this collection of rundown 1920s buildings that hugs a bend in the road. Equally magical is fronting up to the restaurant’s hand-tooled wooden front door, which I can boldly assert is the only entrance in the area designed to mimic a traditional French kneading bowl. Inside, the narrow dining room funnels the eye towards the statement-making kitchen, where the mighty wood oven and grill is crowned by a baronial ram’s head carved from stone that the couple found at a French flea market.
Tedesca’s five-course set menu is a decision-free zone. Anyone familiar with Hafner’s dexterity with refined-rustic food will know this is a good thing and relinquishing control is rewarded with her cavalcade of veg-driven antipasti honouring the region and the season. There’s always a pasta course – maybe fat pouches of tortellini filled with buffalo mozzarella and beet leaves and licked with sage brown butter. The main might be confit duck chased by rich, spoon-licking dauphinoise potatoes and electrified by a salad of fennel and bitter leaves with hazelnut vinaigrette. Dessert comes with two sureties: it will be fruit-based and it will be from the wood oven. My husband and I lock spoons over an apple and quince frangipane that’s like the love child of a shortcrust tart and a clafoutis, accessorised with Chantilly cream. Sigh.
SEE ALSO: The Best Boutique Hotels in Melbourne
Tedesca is an easy daytrip from the city (word of advice: don’t get stuck being designated driver) but the smart money’s on booking Graceburn House next door. A bit like the Hamptons by way of Middle Europe, it has an unforced aesthetic that knows the power of sunflower stems in an old water jug, a tray of persimmons perched on a battle-scarred kitchen bench, woollen throws on plush couches and oil paintings of stern-faced citizens from centuries past.
Image: The lounge area at Graceburn House .
The lounge dazzles with peacock-blue walls galvanised by full-length golden velvet drapes and a crackling fire. The three bedrooms (plus bunkroom) are decked out with wainscoting, French linen and floral wallpaper. If you fancy something smaller, the nearby Glasshouse is a cosy bolthole for two, complete with a standalone bath in a plant-filled conservatory.
Hafner and her kitchen crew will feed you in-house, too, whether you’re after a simple platter of terrine and cheese or another full multi-course monty. And let us not underestimate the appeal of a well-thought-out booze collection. Here, it stretches from a local wild-fermented Moorooduc Estate pinot noir to a Pieropan soave and classic German riesling. In the drinks cabinet lurk all the accoutrements for a martini as well as pre-batched cocktails from hip Melbourne bars the Everleigh and Byrdi, the latter including a kooky-delicious lamington concoction of cane sugar spirit, coconut oil and raspberry vermouth.
An alarming number of empty bottles grace the dining table the next morning (the only sensible conclusion is a thirsty burglar broke in during the night) but breakfast is fortifying streaky bacon and eggs. A Moccamaster pumps out coffee as morning sunshine streams through picture windows that overlook the barely tamed beauty of the garden.
The day is ours to spend at will but it’s difficult to know which way to jump. This expensive sliver of land girdling Port Phillip Bay is home to more than 50 cellar doors. There are rambles through the hills and beaches to suit every temperament, from wild ocean breakers to the mirror-calm bay – and did I mention the hot springs? But one lesson I learnt in lockdown is the beauty of freedom from choice. Adventuring can wait until another day. Instead, soak up the stillness and go with the slow.