Osteria Tedesca review

Pasta courses are made fresh daily, featuring Hafner's own produce.
Pasta courses are made fresh daily, featuring Hafner's own produce.  Photo: James Broadway

1175 Mornington-Flinders Rd Red Hill, VIC 3937

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Opening hours Lunch Fri-Mon 12.30-4.30pm; dinner Saturday 5.30pm-late.
Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Degustation
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard

Brigitte Hafner must be one of the most captivating chefs in Victoria. There are plenty of people who would instead call her a great, instinctive cook. Who might look at a seemingly simple plate of butter-soft blue fin tuna with mojo rojo, a smoky-sweet and garlicky red pepper condiment and think, you know, maybe she's born with it.

There's some truth to that. Hafner's Bavarian mother gifted her a love of baking, produce worship and family-style feasting from youth. The potatoes you can only hope to get with your lunch – golden with duck fat and flecked with onions cooked to a sweet, sticky fudge – are one of her mum's 500 ways with potatoes.

And there's intuition, absolutely. Hafner, who hand-writes the menu for each service at her new fire-fuelled osteria in Red Hill, says she doesn't know what she will be cooking until she sees the goods. But keeping things simple, as the food might appear here on first impression, takes the kind of lifelong mastery we fawn over sushi lords for.

Hafner's Alan Scott brick oven commands the room.
Hafner's Alan Scott brick oven commands the room.  Photo: James Broadway

It's key to know this because while the good times unfold easily over two hours, where mezze is chased by pasta, perhaps duck or steak, and dessert, Osteria Tedesca is a magnum opus, not only for Hafner, but her architect husband Patrick Ness, her longtime wine buff business partner James Broadway and every skilled artist, producer and winemaker they have gathered to their fold in their illustrious careers.

Every detail is finely wrought from first foot scrunch on gravel, to spoon onto the bone china coffee cup.

Weeks were spent crafting the imposing, hand-tooled timber door that makes entry an event, while everywhere in the moody, flower-sprayed room are statement pieces – a commanding butcher's block, the ebony kitchen bench of ancient wood – collected over Ness' career or custom-built. A hearth adds warmth to the glittering bar, but it's Hafner's dark brick oven with its smouldering mouth that commands the room.

Mussels may appear in pasta, or as part of the electric mezze.
Mussels may appear in pasta, or as part of the electric mezze.  Photo: James Broadway

It commands the menu, too, but under a firm hand that knows how to wield it as tool and not weapon. Out come slabs of wholemeal focaccia bristling with herbs and salt and a Moorish eggplant "salad". Here the slowly roasted heart has been ripped from the fruit and revivified with tangy sumac, pickled red onion, and handfuls of parsley and toasted walnuts. There's smoke, but it's a sweet sigh, not a statement.

Calamari has swum just close enough to the kitchen's fire to curl. Draped over chickpeas, it looks innocuous then wallops you with the force of zhoug learned under renowned Lebanese Australian chef Greg Malouf – a riot of coriander, green chilli and secret spice cardamom for bracing fragrant zing.

This is powerfully clean cooking, all informed by the peninsula's best, but anchored by the person cooking them rather than a cuisine. Zucchini and haloumi fritters are squish and crunch, salt and thyme with lemon yoghurt to cut. A mid-course pasta marries the interests of fire-loosened mussels, acid-sweet cherry tomatoes and basil with the richness of a salty mollusc liquor and still lets the fresh tagliarini's eggy strands have a say.

O'Connor rib-eye treated the best way possible.
O'Connor rib-eye treated the best way possible.  Photo: James Broadway

Broadway's cellar – an underground water tank you'll soon be able to climb into – is swelling with an even split of local talent and Euro stars. It's a true collection to dine to, available by carafe for flex, served at cellar temperatures, and rife with chablis, juicy field blends and other things that sprout arms and clap for the kitchen.

However you're feeling about meat in 2020, you can feel OK that it's done the right way here. Dry-aged, two-year raised O'Connor rib-eye sits on the kitchen bench as on a dais. Its end is a slow, gentle cooking high over the coals. The ruby strips and crisped borders are joined by those duck fat potatoes and springy, peppery greens. It's a worthy way to go out.

But then, so is eating a fluffy meringue roulade filled with passionfruit curd and cream. So is drinking Vietnamese coffee run through a Moccamaster for a strange, gentle kick.

Brigitte Hafner creates the day's menu only when she's seen the goods.
Brigitte Hafner creates the day's menu only when she's seen the goods.  Photo: James Broadway

Restaurants such as this, full of confidence but not ego, don't happen by magic, nor very often. Corporate brainstorming can result in richly furnished venues that have it all right on paper, but will never click the way Osteria Tedesca does. That is the result of people with years under their belt, good taste in their bones and one shared vision to fuel it all.

Cost $110 a head.

Vegetarian With notice please.

Drinks Fermented sodas, craft cocktails, local and European wines of distinction, Peroni red.

Pro Tip: Book the stunning boutique accommodation for six, or two.

Go-to Dish: Calamari with zhoug relish (part of the $110 set menu).

https://www.tedesca.com.au/