The first time I walked into Port Phillip Estate I was stunned with the modern architecture. It stood out from the rest of the more rustic, traditional, Red Hill wineries at the time. While it created a trend in the area, it is still unique in its scale.
That day was not the day for fine dining but inspired me to one day return and enjoy the incredible view over lunch. Years have passed, but several positive reviews illustrated the dining room had settled into a high performance groove. I was eager to say the least to have a try for myself.
It is not cheap to eat in the dining room, especially on a public holiday, with a prix fixe for two or three courses. Thankfully there are many exciting options, and the descriptions of the food have the potential to live up to the expense. Catherine and I both order the Kooyong flagship Chardonnay (the Farrago) which has only just begun to be offered on the menu by the glass. It is an elegant, high quality expression of a local vineyard that shares the cellar door with Port Phillip.
It is time to start eating and I have done an extremely gentlemanly gesture and ordered one of the two dishes that Catherine couldn’t choose between. The “Barbara pumpkin angolotti” consists of one large piece of al dente filled pasta, simple but delicious pumpkin, with balance to the creaminess provided by lemon, and a nice infusion from sage. Catherine was torn but ordered the pan seared scallops. Large, beautifully seared scallops, slightly translucent, are served with a lovely parsnip puree. The lentil salad seems an unusual accompaniment but it works alongside the bitter leaves which are a more regular compliment.
After a terrific start, our main courses took it up a notch. My Aylesbury duck, the breast in particular, was incredibly well cooked. The beetroot sauce combining with the duck like a classic should, and the quince providing the slight sweetness that is so well married to game. Presentation stood out, but the taste was an escalation.
Catherine was taken by the sound of the ricotta salata gnocchi. Another delightfully presented meal, with the puree of Chanteney carrots a highlight on the plate in more ways than one. Everything worked nicely together with the gnocchi. There is a great deal of thought that has gone into each of the elements.
Normally after such tremendous savoury courses you could forgive the desserts not being as intricate or well thought through. Forgiveness was not needed as I tasted my first mouthful of the roasted Red Hill figs, rice pudding infused with more fruit, and chunks of honeycomb. Huge on flavour and while rich, not a dessert that overcame me by the end with too much creaminess.
While enjoyable, the caramelised honey panna cotta probably missed the mark a touch on the star component which was presented in a flat circular dish, rather than in the usual pyramid form. It was set, but you couldn’t get the usual creamy mouthfeel from each taste. However, the poached quince was amazing, meaning a reconfiguration could be all that is needed to take the dish to the level we found in the rest of the menu.
Expectations are sometimes the most difficult element to meet. The food had well and truly exceeded my expectations even though Port Phillip Estate is recognised as one of the best on the Mornington Peninsula. The clean lines of the restaurant and amazing architecture naturally lead you to believe the service is going to be equally classy. It has many fine dining features, even including a small stool being brought out for Catherine’s bag.
While the maitre’d did an excellent job, and on more than one occasion pinch-hit for the floorstaff, it was not enough to overlook some of the oversights. When your waitperson has said more than twice “thank you for your patience” normally it is regarding the food. In this case the kitchen was keeping up with a three-quarter full restaurant on a public holiday, but our waitperson was not keeping up with the simple things. As an example, while we waited quite some time to order dessert, eventually Catherine had finished her sparking water, and the rest of which was in a bottle a little while away to keep the table uncluttered. We sat there for several minutes waiting for her to notice that we needed to order and/or have our water topped up but to little avail. The same happened with the bill and we actually took it up to the maitre’d on our exit. At these times when we patiently waited, our waitperson was on the floor clearing plates, or getting drinks for the larger tables; just not ours.
Service faults aside, we had an excellent meal. The food was fantastic and the view impeccable in this dining room that was purpose built for the surrounds. The experience here is exceptional whether for a day trip or while holidaying on the Peninsula.