Nov 28, 2023 Restaurants
Metita, Michael Meredith’s new restaurant in The Grand by SkyCity, is named after his mother, who inspired his love of food from an early age. In honouring his mother, Michael has created a restaurant honouring his Samoan motherland, taking the comforting food of the Pacific and reimagining it through the lens of a prestigious career in some of this country’s best fine dining restaurants. The result is a modern, casual yet refined menu that is uniquely Auckland (which is, after all, the biggest city in the Pacific) and uniquely Michael Meredith. We talked to him about the new restaurant, its emphasis on shared menus and its new long Sunday lunch.
Metro: Let’s talk about the Toana’i, your Sunday lunch. How’s it different from a regular lunch service and from what you offer at Metita on a nightly basis?
Michael Meredith: Initially, we were looking at doing a few lunches during the week, but we decided against it. Sundays gave us an opportunity to explore that a little bit. In the Pacific, Sunday lunch is a big thing. It’s a day for rest, but normally we go to church on Sunday and we celebrate afterwards with what we call Toana’i, which is a long lunch, a feast. We wanted to translate into the concept of what Metita is. It’s a set menu format. We’re still pulling from the main menu but eventually it’ll be a good way for us to introduce new dishes, especially the main dishes. And the menu is made to be shared — that’s how we eat in the Pacific — and the whole idea is to change it regularly. We’re trying to bring that Sunday feel a relaxing atmosphere — a family-style shared meal where you can come and celebrate.
When I had dinner there, I loved the big long tables of people eating together. But how does the family style dining work if you’re eating as a couple?
It’s still formatted in a way that we can accomodate all different sizes of groups and have them eat together. We’re not going to sit people together if they don’t know each other. We have the big, long tables but there are still smaller tables that we offer too, but it’s a sharing style within your group.
As a Samoan chef who’s had multiple restaurants now, how did your journey bring to opening Metita with SkyCity?
The process has been going on for a while. Growing up in Samoa with my mum drove the idea. Right now, there are a few Polynesian chefs coming up and exploring and celebrating their culture, so the momentum was there and I wanted to put my spin on what Pacific food could be in this day and age.
Pacific food can be quite bland in a sense, and over time it’s been influenced by other cultures — in Samoa and Tonga it’s influenced by Chinese, in Fiji it’s the Indian influences — so why could it not continue to be influenced more by different cultures. For me, you’re celebrating the different ingredients and the region, but the input from me is what I think is important, to make the food grow. Food always evolves with input from how we eat, how we’re exposed to different ingredients and how we travel. If you’re going to do traditional food, you may as well stay home. It’s comfort food. But for me to do it and elevate it in a restaurant format and highlight some ingredients and put my twist on it and add myself into it, it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.
How did coming up as a chef in a modern fine dining context influence what you’re doing now?
When you’re younger, you’re pushing for technique. You’re hungry for knowledge and you want to learn. It’s a part of your development, you try to technically push things. But as you get older and are looking into your roots and looking for what inspired you. Flavour is a bigger thing than technique. As chefs we were taught that the best things came from Europe, — you hear about the foie gras, the truffles, the high end products — but over time we’ve seen people go more local. People start to look in their own backyards. That’s a natural progression. And as you get older, you start looking more at your own region and want to celebrate what we can access in this part of the world.
Most chefs travel and have eaten out a lot, and in that process you bank memories and you try something and then you know it works. Over time you have an accumulation of experiences and in your head you can add that to what you already have in yourself. For me, it’s been a journey and an accumulation of experiences. It’s particularly exciting, the melting culture of what food can be now. If you look at New Zealand, it’s popping with so many great young chefs putting their own spin on things. It’s a great place to eat, there are such good flavours out there now. I think we’re pretty lucky!