Chef Josep Espuga to replace departing Phil Wood at Pt. Leo Estate

Chef Josep Espuga has been anounced as Phil Wood's replacement at Pt Leo Estate.
Chef Josep Espuga has been anounced as Phil Wood's replacement at Pt Leo Estate. Photo: Supplied

The Gandel family's Mornington Peninsula monolith, Pt. Leo Estate, enters a new era today as chef Phil Wood returns to Sydney after four years captaining the venue's two restaurants, Pt. Leo Dining and fine diner, Laura, earning them one and two hats respectively.

Replacing the star talent is chef Josep Espuga, who has been working at the restaurant since late 2020 and has been working as Wood's sous in recent months.

Prior to his time at Pt. Leo, the Spanish-born chef staged extensively around some of Europe's great kitchens including Mugaritz (where Brae's Dan Hunter found much inspiration). He first came to Melbourne's attention for his decided-on-the-night set menus at Balaclava's tiny 20 seat, Pretty Little.

Laura restaurant at Point Leo Estate, Merricks, Mornington Peninsula.
Laura restaurant at Point Leo Estate, Merricks, Mornington Peninsula. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Espuga says he is proud to be taking on the role of culinary director, in which he will oversee, Laura, Pt. Leo Dining and also the Terrace offering. It might seem a big leap in responsibility, however Espuga previously captained multiple venues at the yacht club on Hamilton Island.

In terms of a change in culinary direction, the shift will be subtle. The current menu, which was released in December, was created between Wood and Espuga and some of the dishes like a technically dense tomato and mussel consomme with tiger eye beans, a tarragon foam sealed beneath a sheet of ice show he knows how to dazzle. Many signatures of Pt. Leo, like the carrot souffle, and desserts like the "fairy bread" will be staying.

Espuga says he hopes to always have some key dishes. "We want our customers to be able to come back and bring friends and recommend  their favourite things." The rest of the menu, he says, will transition organically. "We are very produce driven, so as the seasons change and some produce becomes unavailable and new things come in, we develop new dishes." He is currently looking forward to autumn's haul and that he is "already working on dishes showcasing local mushrooms."

Laura restaurant will largely keep the same menu that Espuga and Wood evolved in December 2020.
Laura restaurant will largely keep the same menu that Espuga and Wood evolved in December 2020.  Photo: Jason Loucas

Pt. Leo Estate's core team including service star Ainslie Lubbock, wine director Andrew Murch and general manager Roger Lancia will continue to run the show front of house.