Inventiveness is in the eye of the beholder. As we experience an incredible lunch, I cannot help but think aspects of Pt Leo Estate, and it’s flagship restaurant, Laura, have been done before, but feel completely new.
It might be the combination of the winery, restaurant, and sculpture garden, but it’s not. As I walk in, I have a Port Phillip Estate feeling; the sculpture garden and outlook has a McClelland Gallery and Jackalope vibe; and the winery with its long rectangular shape, featuring floor to ceiling windows, has been done before. The view is magnificent by the way. Whatever it is, this place feels special. It feels different.
It has the persona of a country restaurant that is run by experienced heads who have seen it all and decided they would rather the countryside ocean views, instead of the cityscape. We got a sense of the journey and ethos of Laura during our several courses of the tasting menu, but it was barely scratching the surface.
Laura is versatile. With so many sensory delights you have enough going on around you to be comfortable to not have any awkward pauses on a first date; or in our case, parents who’ve left their infant for the first time catching up, and getting caught up in the amazement of it all. You could make a long day of it too, with the cellar door doing extensive wine tasting, the sculpture garden providing plenty of distraction, and a nice long lunch rounding out the adventure.
We make a start on proceedings with some brioche buns that we double up on through the meal. It’s a nice touch and we did notice sourdough being offered to those who don’t subscribe to the beauty that is brioche. Like much of the produce, the olive oil here is local to the region from nearby Cape Schanck.
Starters consist of a spoonful of potato and Main Ridge Daily dumpling with radish, scattered with cheese; a nori tart filled with homemade crème fraiche and sprinkled with bottarga is absolutely gorgeous and salty; and a rice cake with unusual fruit called medlar produced into a relish, again shows off the local small producers.
For our first entrée we are presented with a nice combination of thinly sliced pear, oyster, mushrooms, celery stalk and leaves, in a creamy sauce with a touch of tabasco. It is an intriguing combination which I tried with, and without, the pear, and settled on the pear being a key component. Equally a fruit perhaps a touch less sweet would be good too.
Incredibly well thought through Hawkes Farm potato is presented duchess style with beurre blanc sauce surrounding. Salmon roe, and sturgeon caviar (as a supplement option) top the potato, which is filled with shiitake mushrooms and cauliflower. This is a beautiful combination and appears to be a signature of this menu. It brings back memories of the famous Attica potato dish, but is presented more like Attica would today, as opposed to yesteryear.
As we struggled to decide between four main courses that all had their enticing qualities, we asked for help and got the response we didn’t expect, but hugely appreciated. “Why don’t you choose two and split them between you?” These mains both came out as separate courses, plated for each of us. It was a tremendous way to do it, both with half glasses of wine which they also accommodate.
The Great Ocean Road duck is roasted and classically presented, with a less classical Mossy Willow “lenticchie” which is described (and tastes) like a minestrone broth. Next door, the Port Philip scallop frill is a Swiss chard leaf filled with lentils and chickpeas. It is beauty on a plate.
The secondary cut of Western Port Bay Wagyu blade is corned and thinly sliced, oozing with flavour and enveloping a perfect polenta. A delightful veal jus is used as the sauce, with slithered almonds scattered on top. Nothing is out of place and the flavours work seamlessly together. Even the sides are thoughtful with some extra depth of flavour and inventiveness.
Following a superb refresher, our beautiful dessert consisting of a custard fondant and foam of liquorice with last season’s berries and some tiny meringues has the sweetness we love, and the technique only great pastry chefs can achieve. That technique is further proven with a superb white opera cake, which is presented as a birthday bonus!
Wines we chose included the 2011 Chardonnay and 2016 Pinot by Pt Leo Estate, as well as a Bordeaux Cabernet blend which were all fantastic. Aperitifs consisted of Four Pillars G&T and the house mocktail which is also beautiful.
As we enjoyed quality dish after quality dish, we had begun to question whether the service was the perfect match to the food. There were some clear misses. While the sommerlier, Andrew, was personable and polite, he did go missing after we had ordered our aperitif. In fact, we didn’t actually get asked whether we wanted the matching wines, or if we needed help selecting glasses for our various courses.
What made up for some of the time trying to catch the floorstaff’s glance on more than a couple of occasions, was the overall professionalism and balanced demeanour shown, which showed a good amount of broad experience. Our best waitperson had a background at Attica, Cutler and Pei Modern, for example.
While there are some improvements that could be made, this is a class act at Laura. Strolling around the sculpture garden following lunch (complimentary for those dining at Laura) is a fabulous way to reflect on a top meal. These are views that you could never tire of and a restaurant that is equally as attractive.