This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, autumn 2019, issue 110
One of Australia’s most recent Relais & Châteaux restaurants offers a tantalising taste of Mornington Peninsula.
There’s a moment, savouring the intensely earthy, mirin-spiked flavours and textures of lion’s mane mushrooms, when I decide I will probably never be able to go back to regular fungi again. But then I notice the button mushrooms and radishes, so thinly sliced they resemble fish scales. And I see there are also slippery slithers of shitake, cooked in curry oil with a confit of carrots.
The dreamy dish is the first of six courses at Laura, a pared-back dining room of blonde wood and glass on Pt. Leo Estate. And even though there are only a few mouthfuls to enjoy, it’s enough for me to know that this meal, prepared by culinary director Phil Wood, is going to be rather life-changing.
Named after Pt. Leo’s celebrated cast-iron Jaume Plensa sculpture, the venue on the Mornington Peninsula – 100 kilometres south of Melbourne – recently became the fourth establishment in Australia to become accepted into the fold of Relais& Châteaux.
Having formerly helmed the kitchens in Rockpool and Eleven Bridge, Wood’s pedigree and culinary prowess comes as no surprise. His cooking is made even better by the setting, on a $50-million wine estate dotted with jaw-dropping alfresco sculptures. It’s within reach of some of Victoria’s most talented producers, who Wood calls upon to supply ingredients like those unctuous lion’s mane mushies, grown locally in Tuerong.
Unsurprisingly, Wood’s four- to six-course tasting menus, optionally paired with wines from sommelier Andrew Murch’s 600-label-strong cellar, are influenced by what these suppliers can get to him. When I visit, there is John Dory with pickled vine leaves, plucked straight from the surrounding hills – the vinegar from the chardonnay leaves pairs perfectly with the meatiness of the fish. And there are mussels from nearby Flinders, served with an umami-rich dressing of seaweed butter.
The cheese course may well trump the mushrooms when it comes to flavour: bitey wedges of Berry Creek blue on a sponge disc, over boozy pear cream bedded on lentils –yes, lentils. And then to end it all, a meringue with figs and lemon cream. There’s a nice spice to the dish, thanks to the fact the figs have been cooked in a Pt. Leo Estate pinot noir, not to mention the subtle sheet of nutmeg and cumin ice-cream. It’s at once fresh and surprising – just like the Mornington Peninsula on a plate.
Find out more: ptleoestate.com.au