Every big restaurant player pricked ears when chef Phil Wood left the Rockpool Group following last year's closure of Neil Perry's Eleven Bridge Street. But it was the Gandel family's $50 million sculpture park, winery and restaurant Point Leo Estate, on the Mornington Peninsula, that made the winning bid.
Since October, Wood has been getting stage one of the dining offering up and running – the semi-formal bistro doing carrot souffles with scampi roe, steaks, and croquettes showered in local cheese for the wine-tasting, sculpture-viewing crowds.
On March 8, stage two will open. Laura will be the more tightly focused, 45-seat, set-menu restaurant named for the stunning eight-metre Jaume Plensa sculpture of a girl's head.
They're eschewing the fine dining label, but this will allow Wood the scope to flex a little more culinary bicep.
"We've been sourcing local ingredients as much as possible for both menus," says Wood, "but a smaller scale at Laura means we'll be able to use products from some smaller producers we've met in the last few months."
Each of the four-six courses will be dedicated to a different part of the local food and wine scene of the Mornington Peninsula. A land course, for example, might be Flinders mussels steamed and served with dehydrated tomatoes, seaweed butter and a fresh corn polenta from local crops.
The "wine" course will see john dory cooked in strips of pickled vine leaves, like fish dolmades, served in a grape sauce.
Sommelier Andrew Murch will also be expanding on the regional Australian wine offering of the main dining room. The list is currently 600 bottles deep and adds premium internationals to the party. Wine matches will also be offered.
Bookings are now open and services begin on March 8, lunch and dinner from Thursday to Saturday, lunch only on Sundays. 3649 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merricks, 03 5989 9011, ptleoestate.com.au