Interview with Laura restaurant, Point Leo Estate

Originally published in the Weekend Australian Magazine, March 2018

The warm, glossy brioche on the side-plate is made with local (Taralinga Estate) olive oil and red wheat flour grown and milled 15km away.

The mussels from Flinders, a stone’s throw along the coast, are steamed, cold-smoked and warmed in their juices along with tomatoes, chives, kombu and pistachio, then finished with local seaweed butter on a sweet puddle of polenta infused with juice from corn grown nearby on the Mornington Peninsula.

And on it goes, just like that, a roster of local name-checks, dish after dish.

Many regional restaurants make a noise about “local” produce when the reality is a cocktail of seasonally affected, small-scale hobby farm gear augmented by professional providores delivering outside the city.

But at Laura, ask the question “Is it from around here?” and the answer will almost always be “yes”. The effort is palpable. Does it matter? Does it make a difference to the food? The answer is “yes” and “yes, again”: increasingly, diners are looking for an experience that is of the location; good cooking alone isn’t enough. And if the chef is smart about choices and preparation, you can taste the difference in the freshest stuff, born of a relationship between cook and catcher.

Overseeing the food at Laura – part of Point Leo Estate, owned by billionaire developer John Gandel – is Rockpool alumnus Phil Wood. And that combination of wealth, experience, talent and contacts has made Point Leo a veritable magnet for talent, on both sides of the pass; recognisable faces are everywhere. It prompts the question: star team or team of stars? It doesn’t take long to work it out.

A soaring contemporary space overlooking a sculpture garden and the sea, Laura is relaxed, stylish and soothing in its colours and textures, and dripping with quality, from the Zalto glasses to the Cutipol cutlery.

The positioning? High. A big wine list that starts modestly; a proper sommelier; outstanding service. And the food? The way it comes, first as small offerings, morphing into family-style with meat and sides as the meal progresses? At a time when much contemporary regional food is so similar, Wood presents a different take on Oz haute regional.

We’ll put that down to maturity. There are Asian flavours, as you’d expect, and some more European, and all of it superb, a masterclass in flavour and harmony that appears simple but in fact belies fastidious method and elegant, unpretentious presentation.

A Dutch Cream potato filled with pistachio nougatine is capped with reduced cream and miso, torched and finished with trout roe and real caviar on a chardonnay vinegar/chive beurre blanc. It is chewy, creamy, salty and soothing –
quite simply the best thing I’ve eaten in years. A meaty “Lion’s mane” mushroom is cooked in the style of a chicken wing using brown chicken stock, sake, soy and mirin: you’d swear it was braised abalone. More (shiitake) mushroom, sesame dashi and diced abalone add to the conceit. The effect: stunning.

This is how it rolls. John Dory with pickled estate vine leaves, grapes, prawns and pine nuts, splashed subtly with prawn oil. Ultra pale lamb neck, cooked in vine leaves and salt crust, comes with a brilliant green salad and baby
potatoes in a porcini vinaigrette.

Raw and cooked figs team so cleverly with nutmeg in a corrugated meringue thing and cumin in ice cream. Hints of lemon, crisp shards of something sweet… it’s all so utterly complete.

Champion team? I think so.

Pt Leo Estate, 3649 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merricks

(03) 5989 9011