LAURA, MORNINGTON PENINSULA, VIC
Laura is so at home in its gorgeous, view-enriched setting that it's hard to believe it's less than a year old. The breadth of talent in the front of house team certainly helps, as does a wine list that confidently matches Pt Leo Estate's own output against a collection of some of the best and most interesting small producers from across the globe. But it's chef Phil Wood's food that really brings the sense of belonging home. Local seafood, vegetables, cheese and meat are presented in deft, beautifully realised combinations as big on old-fashioned flavour as they are on clever technique. All this and an attention-grabbing collection of sculpture – it's an impressive début.
In short: Strong and assured straight out of the box.
IGNI, GEELONG, VIC
From the thread of wood smoke in the air to the warm personable service and beautifully constructed wine list, there's delight, elegance and sincerity to this restaurant in the backblocks of Geelong that makes it one of the country's best dining experiences. Aaron Turner's multi-course menus start with an impressive shower of palate-priming snacks that are followed by dishes that make the most of the region's produce, embellished and enhanced but grounded in simplicity. One of Turner's great talents is to feed you well over many courses, leaving you satisfied and uplifted but never stuffed. It's the kind of complete experience that has you vowing to return before you've left.
In short: A masterclass in balance.
BRAE, BIRRAGURRA, VIC
Dan Hunter has never been one to rest on his laurels, even those he grew himself. In fact, if the ongoing project of becoming increasingly self-sufficient is anything to go by – he's growing his own wheat now and milling grains daily for the bread – he's doubling down on the mission to paint a portrait of the surrounding countryside with flavour and artful plating. The dining room (designed by Six Degrees, as is the superb accommodation that should be on every food traveller's bucket list) gets better with age, while the front of house team is a blueprint for how to get it right.
In short: A superb regional portrait.