Laura at Pt Leo Estate – Victoria’s hottest restaurant?
Winner of best new restaurant in Australia’s Good Food Guide this year, there’s a lot of buzz about Laura at Pt Leo Estate.
Culinary director Phil Wood’s fine dining establishment is a glassed-in separate room in an expansive eating and wine tasting area, overlooking a manicured sculpture garden and Westernport Bay.
The restaurant name comes from one of the most noted sculptures on this impressive site. Reportedly it was developed at a cost of A$50 million.
And you can see where the money has gone. The building itself looks tucked into the landscape, with picture-perfect rows of vines to the left, the sculpture park behind and the water views further on.
There’s only around 50 seats at Laura, with room in the bistro abutting it for another 100 or so. Plus, there’s outdoor areas overlooking the grounds, perfect for a nice bottle of wine and a snack.
But we were there to sample the tastes of the Mornington Peninsula, a noted food and wine area less than an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne. Wood’s menu changes regularly, depending on what can be sourced but we’re told there are some staple dishes.
And so, ordering a bottle of Laherte Freres Ultradition brut champagne (a selection given the thumbs up by the sommelier Andrew Murch), we settled in for a Sunday afternoon with dear friends The Artist and Easily Pleased.
Apparently the chef doesn’t like to call this fine dining but it’s hard to find another way to describe it. As a showcase of local produce, it’s very enjoyable, with none of the offbeat combinations we’ve experienced from chefs around the world who also espouse this approach.
Laura offers set menus; diners can choose four, five or six courses and there’s an option for matching wines.
Happily, if you’re a group, the restaurant will accommodate individual preferences – you can take four courses, while others at your table can choose five or six. We all opted for five courses, with an extra treat for gluttonous husband and Easily Pleased, who shared half a dozen oysters to start.
Don’t let the name fool you; this is a species of oyster found places other than Sydney! Gluttonous husband, who prefers, smaller, sweeter oysters, found these to be rather briny. Still, they went down the hatch, accompanied by Mornington Peninsula ales.
And so we sat, sipped, chatted and gazed at the very lovely scenery. And we waited. Greedy Girl was getting slightly tipsy from the champagne and lack of food. There was no amuse bouche (well, not at the start of proceedings) and it took more than an hour before the first dishes arrived, along with a brioche roll made from locally-produced olive oil, plus some Cape Schanck olive oil for dipping.
Dish one was a scallop and mussel risotto with shiitake mushrooms. We were asked if we’d prefer the scallop on top to be raw (warmed through by the hot rice underneath) or seared. The table was split down the middle; gluttonous husband and Greedy Girl took it raw.
What a combination! The vibrant orange colour of the risotto looked very attractive, but that paled by comparison to the flavour. Sensational – especially the depth that the mushroom brought to the dish. It was also great to see the roe left on the scallop.
Oddly we were then given a little extra treat – perhaps an amuse bouche when you’re not having an amuse bouche. The Artist doesn’t like ‘visible’ egg, so she was given a mini-turnip, while the rest of us had a duck egg on an avocado mousse with a tiny sliver of jamon.
It was time for more duck egg – in this dish, it was an emulsion forming a ring around a delectable broth (featuring ginger) with asparagus and a goat’s milk foam.
OMG. This is a seriously delish dish. The call immediately went out for more brioche because every last skerrick of this was mopped up. The emulsion was amazing – it looked heavy but was incredibly light.
We moved on to a potato dish. This stunning creation (pictured at the top of this post) had tiny, crispy discs on top, a generous helping of salmon roe (farmed in the Yarra Valley) and a creamy potato mixture underneath. Stunning.
Our final savoury course was a veal blanquette, served with a sweetbread on the side and a celeriac puree.
This precipitated an impromptu ‘pass the parcel’. The veal was quite rare and the four of us negotiated what we thought was the most rare piece (handed to gluttonous husband). Notwithstanding the colour of the meat, it was quite enjoyable in terms of flavour.
But it also provoked a discussion – at the outset we’d been asked if we wanted our scallop cooked but there was no enquiry as to how the veal should be presented. We thought that was a little odd.
And so to ‘dessert’. Gluttonous husband and Easily Pleased had the cheese – an interesting combination of Berrys Creek blue, lentils, pear and honey from Pt Leo Estate. They pronounced it a winning combo.
For the girls, it was another stunning-looking plate, a take on the pavlova.
Now, whether you consider the humble pav to be an Australian or New Zealand invention (and no correspondence on that will be entered into here), there’s no doubt that this is possibly the most elegant execution Greedy Girl has ever seen.
Slicing through the meringue reveals marinated strawberries with basil and the piped cream on top is luscious. The only element Greedy Girl didn’t quite get was the coconut sorbet on the side. A minor quibble.
And we were done. We managed to get some coffee, and headed for the exit, after being given some free passes to walk through the sculpture park, valid for a year. We’d be very happy to head back at some point.
A note about the service. While the wait staff were very personable and friendly, you couldn’t say they were attentive. Even as the afternoon wore away and tables were vacated, it was hard to catch anyone’s eye to ask for the champagne glasses to be refilled or order a coffee.
Indeed, it was hard to get attention to order pretty much anything. We needed to gesture to staff for pretty much every interaction – to order our wine and food, the coffee, and finally, for the bill.
To the good, the pacing of the meal (once the first course finally arrived) was leisurely, which is definitely our preference. There’s nothing worse than trying to savour a world-class meal and the next course arriving within seconds of the previous plates being removed.
Still, there wasn’t a dud dish all day and it’s definitely the sort of food Greedy Girl would love to explore further.
Laura at Pt Leo Estate
3469 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merricks, Victoria