One Mornington Peninsula winery, two stellar restaurants
Pt Leo Estate offers a double dose of fine dining
Words by Ute Junker
Photo Chris McConville
It takes a lot to get me excited about carrots. Drizzle them with honey and roast them up and I’ll put some on my plate but on the whole, the poor old carrot leaves me cold. So my ordering the Dutch carrot souffle at the Pt Leo Restaurant is the sort of truculent act a teenager might pull. I’m challenging chef Phil Wood to dazzle me – and lo and behold, he actually does.
The carrot souffle – served with brown butter and wild scampi roe, it is all its delicate texture and full flavour – is just one of the many highlights of our lunch at Pt Leo Estate Restaurant. The bistro-style eatery may have a relaxed feel, but there’s nothing laidback about the menu, which range from wallaby pies to whiting en croute served with braised cos lettuce and a perfectly-cooked beef fillet with a mushroom glaze and local hazelnuts. Even the bread, straight from the woodfired oven, deserves its own mention, both the roast apple sourdough and the fennel and rosemary focaccia.
The thing is, even if this restaurant didn’t deliver quite so much, it would still be doing well. The Pt Leo Estate winery may have plenty of competition on the Mornington Peninsula, but it also has something none of its rivals does: a magnificent outdoor sculpture park with an outstanding collection. They would be able to turn over tables here offering just fish and chips and sausage rolls. The fact that the owners, the Gandel family, went to the trouble of luring as talented a chef as Phil Wood (ex-Rockpool) tells you something about their penchant for thinking big.
In fact, the Gandels are such large-scale thinkers that they have given Wood not only but two restaurants to play with. The Pt Leo Restaurant is what passes for an everyday eatery here; top billing goes to Laura, the degustation-only restaurant. It has built up an envious reputation for creative cuisine: something as simple as a wisp of duck egg omelette is elevated by additions of bone marrow, veal stock, petals of broccoli and fried potato, and a rich red wine sauce.
The only problem with Laura is that its tiny dining room tends to book up quickly: which is why we miss out on this visit. Never mind; we’ll be back.