As the lunch crowd begins to arrive, Brigitte Hafner, owner and chef at Mornington Peninsula newcomer Tedesca, is making fettucine. The pasta, part of a five-course menu focused on locally sourced ingredients, is made using eggs from her own chooks. It'll be tossed with mussels from Flinders Pier, zucchini from a nearby farm and a thrillingly clean sauce made from mussel juice, lemon zest, parmesan, a little butter and Cape Schanck olive oil.
Hafner is working at a bespoke, blackened-timber kitchen bench, backdropped by a sizeable brick hearth equipped with a woodfired grill and oven, and crowned with a massive antique stone ram's head. It's not so much an open kitchen as an extension of the dining room. Guests wander up to the bench to chat to the chef as she rolls and then cuts the dough. It feels less restaurant and more like lunch at a friend's house.
This is the first "real" kitchen Hafner's had in many years. At pioneering wine bar Gertrude Street Enoteca her repertoire was restricted by space. Sixteen years later, it's apparent she's spent the time thinking about exactly what she wanted. Tedesca (Italian for "German") is not only impressively competent but also original: a modern-Australian version of a traditional Italian osteria.
The design comes courtesy of Hafner's husband, architect Patrick Ness, who has done a superb job modernising the original timber building without losing its integrity. The open-plan space features a long, central bench strewn with vases of flowers from the garden, lamps, glasses and cutlery. The windowpanes are wonky with old glass. There's been money thrown at it but the room is relaxed.
The price tag is also relaxed: it's an all-inclusive $110. The osteria-style meal starts with antipasto and then runs through pasta, fish, meat, and dessert courses with Vietnamese coffee, filtered rainwater and a tip included. There's only one seating, so the pace is languid.
Ingredients change from week to week, depending on what's available in the area and, while the structure of the meal might be based on an Italian osteria, Tedesca doesn't stick to Italy for its flavours.
There might be dolmades made with vine leaves harvested that morning from Hafner's own garden (she and Ness live two doors down from the restaurant) and filled with a Turkish-style mix of rice, cinnamon, cloves, mint, currants and pine nuts. The texture of the leaves is glorious and they break cleanly when bitten into.
These might be accompanied by a Greek-style fava and horta, the yellow split pea purée accompanied by amaranth, cooked to order in salted water and arriving soft and wilted, flavoured with garlic and lemon juice. It's vibrant stuff, comforting and fortifying, much like the pan-fried haloumi that's served with roasted walnuts, sumac, cucumber, thyme and purslane.
The fish course might be trumpeter, a robust almost meaty fish that takes well to being grilled over coals. It's accompanied by mojo rojo, a Canary Island sauce made with grilled red peppers, red chillies, raw and roasted garlic and red wine vinegar. There's a romesco-sauce quality to it, but with a little more kick.
Hafner may be legendary for her talent with pork but if the abbacchio alla Romana is being slow-cooked in the woodfired oven you won't feel short-changed. It's suckling lamb, cut on the bone, cooked with fresh herbs, white wine and stock in a parmesan and breadcrumb crust.
The wine list at Tedesca is assembled by James Broadway, Hafner's business partner at the Gertrude Street Enoteca. It's a compact, clever list that leans towards the biodynamic, hovers around the Mornington Peninsula, but also ranges further. There might be pinot noir from local producer Avani, a skin-contact white blend from Adelaide Hills producer Manon, Tuscan Chianti or French Petit Chablis from Christophe.
A local rosé moscato from Quealy is an ideal match for a dessert like the berry tart, encased in one of the best shortcrust pastries you're ever likely to come across.
Tedesca Osteria is both familiar and something completely new. The sense of relaxed hospitality and Brigitte Hafner given full rein in her own kitchen is a powerfully good combination. Put it on your must-do list.