This was not my first visit to Merediths but I was nervous. I was dining with someone I needed to impress - my sister. She has lived in Australia for more than 20 years and when I visit her, she whisks me around her latest and favourite restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne until I'm dizzy. I blow my budget in what seems like the first five minutes, use up a year's worth of calories in a weekend and leave with no regrets whatsoever. She's a serious food-lover and here was my chance to return the favour.
I'd chosen Merediths to take her to first because I love the surprise of this place. It's small and very intimate and located in a non-descript part of Dominion Rd.
The unassuming exterior belies the magic that's going on beyond the frosted windows and the ambience, regardless of its stellar reputation for fine dining, is anything but stuffy or intimidating. And the food has always been outstanding. At least that's how I remembered it.
The menu offers an a la carte menu and a seven-course tasting menu. I've been slowly warming to the trend of degustation dining so we opted for the tasting option. It offers a wonderful opportunity to trust the chef and lets them take you on a journey of their choosing. Better still, it also means that both you and those you're dining with, get to make the same delicious discoveries together.
Our first course was a perfect example of how chef and owner Michael Meredith is the master of combining intricate flavours and techniques so beautifully. Explained as a "smoked duck and beetroot sandwich", it was a fanciful beginning to an evening of fine dining. Eaten without utensils, this bright purple meringue sandwich, macaroon-style, is layers of duck, pecorino, and rocket. Surprisingly easy to eat - after the first bite I popped it in my mouth whole - it collapsed like candyfloss, while simultaneously releasing an explosion of flavours. There was the buttery, unctuousness of duck liver parfait, the sharp and salty note of pecorino, the wisp of smoke from the duck, and all wrapped up with the bold and sweet essence of beetroot. I breathed a sigh of relief. The sister was seriously impressed.
The next course demonstrated how adept chef Meredith is at the art of extracting the flavour of an ingredient, changing its form, then re-introducing it as the pure essence of the original flavour.
Cured Akaroa salmon and scampi ceviche, adorned with tiny pearls of anchovy caviar, an intriguing strip of invisible mirin jelly and a cucumber sorbet was a triumph of both taste and texture. Pale, cool and gentle, this was a graceful dish.
From there it was one food highlight after another. A tender butternut tortellini was served with a staggeringly tasty green banana and coconut side-kick while Northland paua made friends with cauliflower sprouts and smoked eel. Swordfish was rubbed in leek ash and served with mandarin, pork was all soft belly and cheek and venison loin was teamed with a wicked combination of oxtail, hummus cannelloni and sweetbreads.
Desserts sent us over the edge with a fragrant feijoa sponge served with liquorice marshmallow and a spectacular combination of chocolate and tropical fruits was simply dreamy. We had been treated to cooling sorbets, slippery jellies, the crunch and crackle of nuts, the smoothest purees and the flavour of each was nothing short of exquisite.
Chef Meredith may surprise with dishes that play with texture, technique and temperature but importantly this is never at the expense of exceptional and intense flavour.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is food fit only for food fanatics but I'd strongly dispute that. Bistro food it is most definitely not, but it is made absolutely approachable, in no small part, by the exceptional front of house staff. They are friendly, grounded, informed and are on hand to offer explanation or answer any questions you might have. Similarly, they leave you alone if that's what you want.
As we drove away I asked my sister, if it was up to her, what rating would she give Merediths. She had only two words for me: "Nadia Comaneci." I instantly knew what she meant.
Over 30 years ago, we were wide-eyed little girls, glued to our television screen as a Romanian gymnast dazzled audiences and judges at the 1976 Olympic Games and was awarded the first-ever perfect score. Her routine was flawless and in that moment she made the impossible seem possible. And that's what dining at Merediths does. You get to experience what perfection looks, tastes and feels like.
I've no doubt that in 30 years' time, we'll remember another star performance we shared, thanks to a genius called Michael Meredith.
From the menu: Seven course menu $110 per person (without wine): smoked duck and beetroot meringue, salmon ceviche, butternut tortellini, swordfish and eel, quail with walnuts, pork with muesli, venison, desserts of dark chocolate and feijoa.
Drinks: Fully licensed.