The plaudits have come from seemingly everywhere for a relatively new destination restaurant, with attached accommodation, a leisurely hour or so drive from Melbourne. As with many acclaimed venues, the reasons are somewhat intangible. Sure there must be magnificent food (and wine), service, atmosphere, and environment, but there is often something else that adds the bow needed to be truly great.
Here at Tedesca Osteria, Graceburn House, and our accommodation for the evening, Glasshouse, there is a quality that I need to spend time articulating. Saying there is a friendliness that only the country can provide is too simple. Saying Bridgitte Hafner’s cooking is stunning is true, but her food has been exceptional far earlier in her career than this latest venture, including at a pop-up which gave some indication of her future intentions back in 2015 at Avani Winery. The feeling in the dining room is not uncommon in country dining settings either. Certainly, the majority (if not everyone) in this room is here to have a wonderful long lunch in very capable hands.
It is fair to say there is no fussing in this entire dining room, and zero stuffiness, which naturally puts you at ease. It does mean to not expect incredibly attentive service, but you are not looking around for long, and requests are never met with any resistance. As an example, a few months ago when booking we passed on Catherine’s gluten intolerance. While the staff didn’t openly say they had it noted down, when Catherine mentioned it, they also didn’t make her feel uncomfortable. It was remembered throughout the service, including serving the seafood minus pasta because it sounded so great as a dish and she told our waitperson she didn’t want to miss out.
There is an extensive cellar and the wine knowledge of the waitstaff is impressive. Towards the end as I looked to pair a red with the suckling lamb course, although it was a little heavier on tannins, the fact I was interested in the Dolcetto d’Alba was encouraged by our waitperson. I liked this style where you are assisted to make a decision without feeling obliged to follow one person’s opinion, and actually guided to go with your gut. There was zero upselling.
As you are introduced to the restaurant there is a playful statement that acts partly as a warning, “lunch will last around three and a half hours”. The staff knowing we are staying the night surely helped, but no doubt you cannot finish lunch in less than two and a half hours and we went for four! So playful yes, but true, definitely. Even with our free flowing conversation we did sometimes pause and say “I wonder when the next course is” and it normally arrived momentarily, as if the staff were listening out (but I trust they were not). The utterly delicious bite of a “zeppola”, with the most incredibly pronounced anchovy encapsulated in the Italian deep fried pastry, is not followed immediately with the snacks course, so we enjoy sipping on our Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs Prestige NV. The champagne is impressive, and the first time we have tried this House.
After a leisurely wait, the snacks come out in all their glory. The Cypriot pita with pumpkin and cinnamon is my favourite for its depth of flavour, and delicate exterior, but everything is delicious with the focaccia really accentuating the various dips and sauces. While the carrots and artichokes straight out of the extensive restaurant garden are delightful, the grilled octopus wows with its perfect texture that is a pleasure to eat.
This is the kind of restaurant that you cannot help walk around and look at the art, and take a deep breath outside of the fresh Red Hill air. On our way outside earlier we caught more than a glimpse of the pasta (sorpresine) which look like tortellini but without any filling. This is served as our next course with king prawns and mussels in an elegant and flavoursome crustacean and romesco broth. What a revelation this dish is to me. Having grown up with loaded “spaghetti marinara” from South Terrace in Fremantle which had the elegance of a sledgehammer, this pasta and seafood from Tedesca is easily the best, and perfectly restrained version I have ever eaten. I openly told the waitstaff that I was thinking of licking the bowl but showed the same restraint the kitchen must to not overdo this dish.
As if knowing the follow up is as important as the star dish (in my opinion), the Bowen coral trout comes out looking like a starlet too. Oh my this is about as good as a little fillet of fish gets. The charred spring onion sauce and pickled shiitakes are terrific too, but nothing takes away the limelight from the trout. We are nearing the end of our Moorooduc Estate Robinson Chardonnay, which has turned out to be a nice selection from a nearby vineyard. It is a premium offering by Moorooduc which is a winery I’ve now had two outstanding bottles from in as many weeks (the other a Pinot Noir at Aru).
I’m now on to the Dolcetto d’Alba (E. Pira by Chaira Boschis) and while the waitperson was right that it is a touch tannic for the suckling lamb, I’m glad I tried it. The lamb is another excellent dish, but I cannot help but think the serving size is to accommodate far bigger eaters than Catherine and I. You don’t get tasty lamb with chickpeas and chorizo often, so we managed to finish every last mouthful in any case. The side salad is also completely finished, suggesting it is far better than average, with the orange really lifting it.
With Catherine’s fresh mint tea, and my coffee ordered, dessert arrived and whilst more petite than our final savoury course, the torte with a filling of rhubarb, strawberries, and fig leaf ice cream, was a tremendous finish to an utterly superb meal. We had nowhere to be except Glasshouse next door to relax for the evening (and enjoy our charcuterie platter we ordered too; post bath!) A long, leisurely, luxurious lunch left us with lasting memories, plans to come back with a group (perhaps in the private room for twelve), and a rather full belly. Monday has never been so good.