Merediths, Mt Eden

By Carroll du Chateau

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Address: 365 Dominion Rd
Phone: (09) 623 3140

It is always dangerous when your friends rave about a restaurant. And even more so when you can't get a table for weeks unless you're prepared to come at 6pm or 8.15pm.

How can Merediths be this popular? Maybe it's just an Auckland craze thing? And so, one blustery Wednesday night we waltzed in, eager to be impressed, but equally prepared to be disappointed. But from the start Merediths was outstanding.

Our waiter knew his succinct but well-chosen wine list so well he produced a delectable pinot gris for me on second try (and he didn't mind trying). Crisp yet rich and aromatic, it was the perfect accompaniment for what was to follow. Oliver and Brian got similar treatment and similar satisfaction.

Meanwhile we perused the menu. It's quite short: around six choices of entrees and main courses and three vegetarian dishes available as either. Looking back, I realise I could have ordered anything - with the possible exception of the goat curd - and been thrilled to bits, but this is an expensive restaurant and I wasn't prepared to put myself in the hands of the chef. Yet.

So, after much deliberation I went for the smoked eel served in a piece and also tempura style ($26). It arrived, arranged like one of the pieces of art on the wall.

Every mouthful, from the plain-with-a-twist smoked eel to the tempura version, was better than the last, which came topped with tender seaweed. Brian's pork belly ($26) was equally innovative, cooked to a tasty, tender crackle and served with two plump scallops.

Our companion's gnocchi ($24), an unlikely and seriously flavoursome mix of haloumi cheese, gnocchi and black olives drizzled with walnuts, was obviously savoured. By now we were bristling with anticipation. Our waiter had already explained the duck breast ($36) would be rare but rested long enough to be pink and cooked through.

What he couldn't explain was the succulence, the tastiness of the accompanying seasonings. I seem to remember dukkah and chorizo in the description, but words couldn't describe the perfect weighting and taste sensations of this dish with its brilliant touches: the slices of sausage, the confit of duck served in a tube of cannelloni, the tiny, tender carrots alongside. By far the best duck breast I've ever eaten.

Not quite so thrilling but still good was the market fish ($36): tender snapper served on two large tubes of calamari and accompanied by fresh peas and the baby poussin ($42), accompanied by a generous piece of lobster.

The high point for our companion was the dessert menu, which I could barely poke a fork at after the duck. He chose the cinnamon creme brulee and chocolate ensemble (both $17). Again they arrived looking like pictures on their plates.

The brulee was enhanced by the cinnamon "which spiced it up in a lovely clean, fresh way" and again there were surprises: a dollop of raspberry sorbet for the brulee, a chocolate tube that exploded with glorious yellow mango pulp for the chocolate option. This is probably the best meal we've had in Auckland. Everything, from the hot homemade rolls served before the meal, to the last spoonful of dessert, was splendid.

Although Merediths' two rooms are small, seating 28 all-up, they are elegant with interesting art on the walls (good conversation fodder between courses). The service is spectacularly good. But it is the food that thrills most.

When we arrived we noted the pinnacle of salt on the table, pleased that the chef wasn't too precious - and that it looked like a mini Mt Egmont. But for once there was no need for extra seasoning: this food is perfectly, lusciously seasoned.

And it's the first time I've tipped in a while.

Our meal: $318 for three entrees, three main courses and two desserts and four glasses of wine.

Wine list: Carefully chosen list of around 40 wines, many by the glass. Currently most popular: Takatu Pinot Gris, $68, and Mt Michael Pinot Noir, $98.

Verdict: Chef Michael Meredith takes Auckland dining to new heights with exciting, immaculately-cooked food, a well thought-out wine list, truly professional service and interesting decor.

Out of 10
Food: 9.5
Service: 9
Value: 9
Ambience: 8

- NZ Herald

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