Address: SkyCity Grand, 90 Federal St, Auckland
Phone: (09) 363 7030
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Smoked eel $32; king salmon $32; mussels $16; kingfish $30; tuatua $28; veal tongue $27; pāua $37; Lole popo $12
Score: 0-7 Steer clear.
After my meal at Metita, when I wandered over to the kitchen and asked chef Michael Meredith how things were going, he just looked away and exhaled through his nose. His expression said, “Bro, if only you knew”. But then he looked back and smiled at me with those kind eyes, like “It’s all gonna be all good.”
The first part of that reaction I had sort of gathered myself over the course of a dinner, which was brilliantly delicious with just a couple of those long-explained gaps you get when a kitchen is being absolutely smashed.
To their credit, there were no outward signs of anxiety among the chefs, who work in full view of the restaurant as is the current fashion (an exception is Josh Emett’s Gilt, where the food prep is so invisible they could well be cooking everything up at Onslow and sending it down in a Toyota Prius), and the floor staff mostly maintain the swan-like air of visible calm too, though in one anomalous moment I saw a waitress literally run through the dining room with such urgency I thought something (possibly part of her uniform) was on fire.
The previous night, Michael told me, they’d had 50 booked but walk-ups took them to 98.
“The PR here,” he said looking around at the restaurant, the hotel, the publicly-listed company, “there’s just so much of it.”
He wasn’t complaining. In fact, he confided that he quite likes it when the kitchen gets overloaded, for the experience it gives his younger staff. But even he must sometimes gulp at the enormity of the job he’s taken on here — the huge flagship restaurant of SkyCity Entertainment Group (it was Sean Connolly’s Gusto before it was Metita and Peter Gordon’s Dine before that), combined with the, you would assume, quite emotionally-weighty responsibility of introducing Pasifika cuisine to Auckland, New Zealand, the world.
It felt like the world had come for dinner the night we ate here. It was a Tuesday with barely a spare seat, and the crowd was a multi-ethnic mix of couples, young friend groups, rowdy business dinners and hotel guests. They were happy as larks.
The room has been refurbished in a major way — from soft banquettes to fancy lampshades — and even the staff clothes are colour-matched to a palette. You order drinks from leather-bound menus (you can tell it’s the good leather) and there are no bad seats, though I reckon the booths along the Albert St window would be the best — there’s not much to see out there but any sense of outdoors is good when you’re on the ground level of a hotel.
Metita offers a tasting menu but it’s four courses for $140 and although I don’t doubt they throw snacks and gifts in there to make it feel like value for money, you would struggle to spend that much a la carte. It would, however, save you from having to make decisions from a list of dishes where absolutely everything sounds delicious.
We over-ordered (our waitress didn’t have a good sense yet of how much two adult humans could comfortably consume) and then got gifted something big from Michael, who had evidently clocked me arriving, although I never saw his eyes leave the food in front of him.
“I thought, you have to try the corned beef,” he told me later, but it was a shame it wasn’t highlighted when we were ordering as a firm steer, because that is a godsend when navigating a long menu. The beef (from a tin, because why mess with perfection?) is stuffed inside a pork bun with translucent lardo salumi wrapped around the outside, and a little luxury on top via a tiny pyramid of caviar. It’s fantastic.
On a good night, the food here will be as good as Ahi (perhaps unfair to compare a new restaurant to Viva’s Top 50 Supreme Winner but Michael is a major league player and I hope would demand nothing less) though perhaps, based on what we ordered, not quite so pretty to photograph.
But the ingredients and combinations are heavenly: chopped raw salmon, mango pickle and roe served on a fresh betel leaf; eel pureed and mixed into a bread dough, fried and served with spicy banana ketchup; fire-roasted tuatua clams, fleshy and multi-textured mouthfuls with a soupy, spicy red harissa sauce to stand up to those big seafood flavours … these are bold dishes of significance — each flying the Pasifika food flag with pride and power.
Best of all might be the pāua — you don’t need much of it to make a dish exciting and the taonga protein is bulked out here with taro “gnocchi”, paneer and fire-scorched pineapple. Poured over it all is a burnt-orange sauce which, like a good curry, separates in the most delicious way.
This is classic Michael Meredith cooking — mixing traditional with modern, flash with rustic, Pacific cuisine with the occasional detour into Asia, and then a couple of little innovations that come from nowhere except his own imagination. For somebody who has run kitchens at The Grove and Mr Morris, who owned a restaurant named after himself on Dominion Road, it’s funny that the restaurant with the most corporate backing of all will, I think, be the one that defines his beautiful legacy.
From dining out editor Jesse Mulligan.
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