The menu is a love letter to the Mornington Peninsula.
When a fire ripped through the roof of the Mornington Peninsula’s Pt. Leo Estate in May, the restaurant had to close for six months to repair the building’s internal structure.
But just in time for summer, the site’s flagship modern bistro, Pt. Leo Restaurant, is reopening December 7, with fine dining Laura following on December 16. Culinary director, Josep Espuga, used the time to travel and gather inspiration for the new menus.
“I’m originally from Spain, so I had a long trip in Europe and went to New York for a week, eating in a lot of restaurants,” he says. “I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which was very inspiring. I can compare the Peninsula to New York State a little bit in terms of produce.”
“Our main focus this year is the people of the Peninsula, the producers and farmers. It’s such a unique place in the world to have such diversity in such a small area, because we can get our hands on crayfish, sea urchin, truffles, tomatoes, olive oil and more.”
“Everything is in a 20km radius, which still blows my mind. It’s not just the diversity but also the quality.” Espuga estimates that 70 per cent of the produce used will be from the Peninsula, with the other 30 per cent from Victoria.
“The produce is so amazing because of the people behind the produce, that’s why we want to focus on them. After Covid, and everything we’ve been through as a community, we believe that we need to look after our community,” he says.
“We have amazing people around us doing amazing things with produce and that’s what we need as a restaurant. “The ingredients are what keep us going. We want to give diners a true taste of the Peninsula.”
One of the things Espuga loves about both restaurants is being able to cook great produce over fire. Pt. Leo Restaurant has a woodfire and chargrill oven and Laura features an open chargrill. “Fire is a big part of our menu and a big part of myself as well,” he says.
“My parents have a small brasserie in Spain where fire is the hero and everything is cooked on that woodfire oven. Fire gives ingredients extra flavour.”
A new entree at Pt. Leo Restaurant is inspired by the Basque burnt cheesecake, one of Espuga’s favourite desserts. “It’s the same concept but savoury, served with local peas and broad beans. We use cheese from a local dairy farm, it’s almost runny inside,” he says.
The degustation menu at Laura will always change, depending on the seasons and produce available.
“When we open, the tomatoes are still not ready but late December and January we’ll put them on,” Espuga says. “We are introducing the throat of the Murray cod from Aquna. In Spain, it is called the kokotxa, it’s a triangle that sits right under the head of the fish. It is really gelatinous, when you eat it, your lips almost stick together. It’s a delicacy back home.”
“Something that we will still have on the menu will be rock lobster. We get it through a local diver and doing it flambé tableside, it’s a signature for Laura.”
For those that want something more casual as they take in the Estate’s famed sculpture park, there’s the family friendly wine terrace.
“We are going to have a New York-style lobster roll, served in housemade brioche with warm butter and lobster – no mayo, no fresh herbs,” Espuga says. “The brioche is a bit warm and there’s a lot of cold lobster with warm butter, a touch of dried herbs and lemons on top. “That’s all. I love eating them like that when I go to New York.”