Gourmet Traveller – Interview by Maggie Scardifiel
Photography by Jason Loucas and Anson Smart
Former Rockpool and Eleven Bridge chef Phil Wood’s new gig opens on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula on Thursday 8 March. Laura is the more intimate, finer-dining option at Pt Leo Estate, a $50 million-dollar winery, restaurant and sculpture park. Here, Wood, Pt Leo’s culinary director, gives us a tour of what to expect from the food, wine, service and design.
Glazed lion’s mane mushroom
“The set menus are either four, five or six courses,” says Pt Leo culinary director, Phil Wood. “It’s not a long-winded tasting menu – there’s momentum – and the portion sizes are there for you to have six courses, rather than three, which means we can concentrate the flavours a little bit more.
“Like the first dish on the menu, the lion’s mane mushrooms, for example. It’s pretty intense but wonderfully savoury. They grow in these big white balls that look like a lion’s mane, hence the name, and are usually used for medicinal purposes. Ours are grown by Deb and Ryan Sharpley on their farm at Tuerong, called Benton Rise. We pan-fry the lion’s mane and glaze it down in a teriyaki-style chicken stock of sake, soy, mirin and butter (a little like how I’d cook a chicken wing). It’s served with abalone, sliced shiitake mushrooms cooked in curry oil, confit carrots, and a salad of radishes and boiled button mushrooms. It’s a great way to start the meal and really sets the tone.”
John Dory with pickled vine leaves
“With each dish we’re trying to highlight the Mornington Peninsula. Each course signifies an agricultural ingredient of the region. The John Dory with pickled vine leaves, for example, highlights the fact the peninsula has now become a vineyard area. We just started harvest at Pt Leo, and the first vines to be harvested were the chardonnay. It’s beautiful with the fish.”
Flinders Mussel’s in seaweed butter
“I really want to be driven by the suppliers when putting together the menus. There’s a guy called Harry here, Michael Harris, and he spends six months of the year working and harvesting mussels, and the other six months he just goes surfing. He has mussel leases between Flinders and Shoreham, about 15 minutes away from where we are, and he brings mussels in a couple of times a week. They’re super-sweet because they’re sitting in Western Port Bay getting that Bass Strait cold water.” On the opening menu, we’re serving them with polenta made with local corn, dehydrated tomatoes for acid balance, and a bit of hollandaise at the end. It’s sweet but also very oceanic. Amazingly, corn has a season here, too. It started about a month ago and will run to about April. It’s harvested and within a week we’re using it.”
Meringue with lemon cream and figs
“We wanted to have a course along the way that links back to the fact this was a massive orchard area before it was vineyards. Fig season is starting (and everyone seems to have a fig tree around here) so we’re using the leaves, fresh figs and dried figs a lot.
“For dessert, we’re doing a layered meringue with lemon cream, candied lemon, fresh lemon, and fresh and dried figs. The dried figs have been cooked in Pt Leo Estate pinot noir, and the dish has some nice spice with a subtle sheet of nutmeg meringue and cumin ice-cream. We’re driven by the seasons, so will hopefully rotate the figs with apples and pears, stone fruit or cherries. Outside of Young, the Mornington is one of the biggest cherry-producing areas in Australia.”
The dining room in Laura
“Laura has between 43 and 48 seats, whereas Pt Leo is 100 to 105. It’s a much more intimate setting, and we’re trying to match the food and service to that style. Not being such a large space there’s no focus on turning tables over, so it’s a bit more easy-going. A calming oasis.”We’re trying to avoid calling it a fine-diner, if we can. We really want it to be a comfortable space, where the service is familiar and relaxed but still professional. We don’t want to be pigeonholed as a special-occasion place or as a place you can’t come back to regularly.”
Who is Laura?
“The restaurant is on the corner of the building, so you’re enclosed in a glass box almost, with a fantastic view of the sculptures at the front. Laura, the sculpture by Jaume Plensa, is looking over the room, front and centre.
“I think one of the biggest secrets about the area is the sunsets. The light streams in from all angles and you get these amazing colours of the sun setting on the clouds each evening – all pink and blue and orange tones. It’s really, really beautiful.”
Phil Wood Culinary Director at Pt. Leo Estate
“I’d never even thought about coming to the Mornington to be honest, but I’m so taken by how beautiful it is. There’s nothing quite like it; it’s so close to the city but so different. What’s really great is that often if we’re not picking produce up direct from our farmers, then it’s the actual farmer dropping it off. It’s a very different life. “I’ve got a great team, too. I’m really, really lucky. Ainslie Lubbock manages the two dining spaces, Pt Leo and Laura, and Andrew Murch (late of Melbourne’s Rockpool Bar & Grill, Stokehouse) is our sommelier. Both venues are equally as important to me, and they’re both quite special in their own right.”
Laura’s wine list
When you come to Pt. Leo, by and large most people want to drink the wine of the estate, which makes sense, but it’s still a very Victorian focus. In Laura, it’s a 600 bin list. We still have a very large focus on Victorian wines but also lots of interesting international labels too. Andrew Murch has sourced some really beautiful Champagnes, too – I love Champagne.”
“Laura is a continuation of the Pt Leo space, but with a divider in the middle. Everything is taken up a slight level. There’s an extra added layer of comfort: where the chairs don’t have arms in Pt Leo, they have arms in Laura, the tabletops are stretched leather instead of wood, the glassware is Zalto instead of Riedel. It’s in the same style but all different.
Laura, Pt Leo Estate, 3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, Vic, (03) 5989 9011, ptleoestate.com.au