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  1. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  2. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  3. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  4. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  5. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  6. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  7. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  8. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  9. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  10. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  11. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  12. Photograph: Graham Denholm
    Photograph: Graham Denholm
  13. Outside at Laura Melbourne
    Outside at Laura Melbourne

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

The Mornington Peninsula’s stocks rise yet again with the arrival of Pt Leo Estate’s stunning new restaurant

If the Mornington Peninsula didn’t have it all already – preternatural good looks, stonking new hotels like the Jackalope and the RACV’s Cape Schanck Resort, an embarrassment of late-model European sports cars – along comes the wonderland of Pt Leo Estate to let mere mortals know where they really stand on life’s ledger.

Pt Leo Estate would be a billionaire’s folly were it not for the fact that the billionaire in question, developer John Gandel, has pulled off an audacious, multi-pronged venture encompassing vineyard, cellar door, sculpture park, bistro and restaurant. Apparently it cost in the neighbourhood of $50 million, a fact written across the venue from its magnate-worthy proscenium to the countless fine details of the gracefully curving building tucked into a hill and looking over lawn and sculpture park to the wild Western Port shore.

Laura is the name of the cast-iron sculpture from Catalan artist Jaume Plensa – a captivating eight-metre-tall megalith of a woman’s head, her eyes closed in an attitude of serenity – that provides the jewel in the crown of the 50-strong collection. Laura is also the name of the 40-odd-seat restaurant sectioned off from the 100-odd-seat bistro. In dining terms, it’s the Estate’s pièce de resistance, where the glassware goes from the bistro’s very respectable Riedel to a featherweight Zalto, where the tables are wrapped in leather, and everything is just as it ought to be. Both physically and edibly, it’s embedded in a rare sense of place, the latter thanks to exec chef Phil Wood, a shining light in Neil Perry’s empire lured south (one presumes) by the enticing prospect of a blank canvas.

It’s a canvas Wood is colouring with keen choices born of the location and the broader region. Fine dining is too much of an old-fashioned term to describe this very new-fashioned restaurant, where the warm brioche rolls are made with a variety of red wheat grown close by, chased with peppery Cape Schanck olive oil, and the menu doesn’t go the long-winded degustation route but a tighter four, five or six courses dotted with site-specific origin stories, like the lion’s mane mushrooms from a nearby Mornington farm.

Those meaty mushrooms are pan-fried and glazed, Wood says, in the same way he would a chicken wing: with stock, sake, soy, mirin and butter. The result is something you’d almost bet your yacht was actually abalone. It’s become something of a signature that shapeshifts over the weeks; ours came with a tiny dice of real abalone and a drape of radish in a rich, sticky sluice of beetroot, its earthiness mollified by shiso. Dish of the year, 2018? Quite possibly.

Ben Shewry at Attica showed that the humble spud can be a thing of beauty and so it is here: a soft confit Dutch cream with chewy nubs of pistachio nougatine under a creamy hat spiked with miso and bruléed, lavished with trout roe and caviar (the real deal, not – ugh – Avruga). Underneath, there’s a tangy beurre blanc to drive the whole high-end comfort theme home.

Can’t decide between the Tuscan-style sauce of chicken livers cooked with pancetta and sage, or an Asian-style five spice and orange? Throw both at the blushing pink and crisp-skinned duck and its ballotine-esque showpiece of confit duck leg and chicken mousse wrapped in carrot and baked in a charcoal crust. Along for the ride are family-sharing-style sides of golden kipflers with parsley puree and parsnips, sticky-sweet with halved red grapes (for our money, the livers win).

It’s what the Peninsula should taste like as we finally move into the cold weather. See also: dessert. A thin Italian meringue shell is filled with all the memories of autumn: roasted chestnuts and crystallised ginger; pumpkin and nutmeg; whispers of their former selves suspended in cream and restrained sugars.

It would be a crime to ignore the floor team: the waiters’ answer to the AFL Fantasy League. It takes one look around the room to realise Pt Leo Estate is exerting the gravitational pull of a black hole on the industry’s top tier, both front and back of house. A billionaire’s folly? On this evidence, we need to encourage more billionaires to open restaurants.

 Time Out Awards

2018Best Regional Restaurant

View this year's Time Out Food Award winners

Written by
Larissa Dubecki


3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd
Opening hours:
Mon-Wed noon-5pm; Thu-Sat noon-10.30pm; Sun 11.30am-5pm
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