The opening of Master Chef Michael Meredith's newest venture - Metita - featuring modern Pacific cuisine, was met with studious silence from the reviewing media late last year. Aside from the promotional faff, no serious write-ups were seen in the opening month. A top chef in a country with only a few of them, modern Pacific cuisine in a land which has only a fingerful of such restaurants... and yet there was silence. 
NZ Herald, after a significant pause, in typical air-headed fashion, ran a write-up from a lady of Samoan heritage, a gushing effusive piece which would have been touching were it not patently patronizing from a newspaper perspective, with the narrative level of a naive school-girl. Aeons later, Prime Minister of Auckland Dining Jesse Mulligan finally waltzed in, rightly hailing the chef as 'legacy-building'. As an independent reviewer, I admit I was part of the whole heap that was remiss - I no longer have the capacity to bang out timely detailed reviews... but here goes nothing, about a place and person that's surely more than something. 
Featuring a fascinating roster of dishes with Pasifika infusions - some presented unadorned, others plated in haute cuisine refinement, you will find the works here - Fa'alifu taro, povi masima, manioka, fe'e, ifi, drauni kari, panikeke and panipopo, as you diligently requisition aunty google to translate. The setting, taking over from another good restaurant - Gusto at The Grand - is a spacious high-ceilinged affair, with the blue-gray ceiling, like an inverted dark ocean, featuring a sea of conically undulating pale blonde lanterns that architecturally grounds the milieu. Earthy tones, no table-cloth and liberal use of wood fit out the fairly spartan aesthetic. Tables for the most part are decently spaced although some are close enough for you to Instagram-snap your neighbour's kingfish composition. This would be the most distinctive of all of Michael Meredith's restaurant designs.
 Service from a phalanx of pleasant young ladies is good - but for a place that should become one of the flagships of a major chef, this one could certainly do with a maitre d' who expertly sets the hospitality standards of the place. 
  Among the things that stand out is an aggressively priced wine list - there is nothing under $80 per bottle (four times the price of a decent bottle at retail) and sometimes even that bottle is not available, obliging one to go for a $100 bottle in a restaurant that is not fine-dining, if you're really in the mood for wine. This strategy will only end up discouraging wine to go with this cuisine. For $100 however, you can get four cocktails (and a sugar coma) of which Metita has an excellent collection, inspired by Pacific themes and fascinating bits of history. I tasted To Sua Tumbler (Clarified Mai Tai), inspired by Meredith's native Samoa - 'twas a well-mixed rum-'n'-blue curacao concoction, the small quantity further elbowed out by an extra large ice-cube bearing the restaurant's motif.   
   'Crab, macadamia mousse, puffed taro'  is presented as a small fluffy disc - a distant cousin of the Indian sev puri, but boy ! you'll have to find Bangalore or Bombay's best sev puri if you're to come anywhere close to this. One of the most deeply delicious snacks ever sampled, it is a micro thesis in haunting umami. The crab is probably there somewhere but you won't miss it, totally snowed over by a macadamia mousse whose soft depth keeps building like a mini avalanche, taken to another peak by little clouds of puffed taro.
 Geoduck Clams, on par with the outstanding crab-taro disc, was a genius-level dish on a bed of ice that coolly enhanced the flavours. The geoduck clam was chopped into tender tendrils, jousting superbly with the classic tropical flavour-'n'- texture of soft shredded coconut, the chilled creamy template of the dish infused with mirin and dashi in a beautiful symphony of savoury, sweet and tart accents. By contrast, 'Panikeke' remained drearily grounded - Samoan fried doughnut reportedly flavoured with smoked eel (the flavour had slid away if it was ever there) with a banana-turmeric-ginger thick sauce that did little to lift the orb atop. 
My affair with the 'Snack' section which began with empyrean flight, did not end well. A repeat of the crab-macadamia-taro disc on another evening disclosed the same essence but lacked the dizzying unctuosity, undercut by little pieces of tart mango that interfered with the dish's umami. Immaculate pictures of salmon on shapely betel leaf turned out on my sampling to have the leaf sacked by a unseemly expanse of cos lettuce, with its chopped salmon, mango chutney and radish adding up to an unfocused pickled taste.  
The proper 'Appetizer' section, displaying impressive range, is as unique as any you'll get in Auckland, sporting fish, shellfish and vegetables in different styles of preparation.Though the flavours were not quite there in the Tuna dish, it was still an interesting little number, the just-cooked tuna fillets having a silken softness often missing in cooked tuna, with Samoan chestnuts - 'Ifi' - pureed into a creamy tart sauce, and a chopped green papaya salad that tasted more of the brunoised onion-'n'-coriander flavour reminiscent of bhel-puri topping.   
'Faalifu Taro and Povi Maasima', with taro cooked in coconut milk, could not escape stodgy mediocrity, and also lacked inspired ingredient pairing. 'Povi masima' turned out to be cubes of brined beef - my companion went gaga over its softness, and I have long abjured red meat but made a very rare exception by  sampling it and then not sharing my companion's rapture. For 'Manioka, Soy Curd and Palm Treacle', Meredith deserves credit for featuring a root known in Samoa and Brazil but not much elsewhere. Presented here as thick fried cuts, it resembled extra-chunky fries, and tasted close to breadfruit. Unfortunately it tends to dry out despite its chunkiness and while it lacked refreshing contrasts in accoutrements, perhaps this is a dish meant to be experienced in its original unadorned state, like the one before it.
All of the above full-size appetizers were easily eclipsed by a beautiful presentation of kingfish sashimi outfitted with wonders that deserve ballads and dissertations. The au naturelle kingfish may not have had the stunning flavour of that sampled in a 'Lillius' degustation in 2019, but this was all about inspired blends, the way the sashimi's soft fresh silken texture echoed velvet slices of vegetables like cucumber, the dabs of cream marrying into tamarind sauce the tartness of which found a supportive partner in excellent tomato jelly. 
On all three visits, the place had an ample flow of patrons, although the traffic thinned out after 9 pm on some weekday evenings. Auckland is called the largest Polynesian city and here in Metita, in the dining room that is spread out like a big hall without much nooks and booths, you will see guests of various ethnicities - from couples, to families, to colleagues out for group dinner - sitting together at the table, chatting and enjoying considered cuisine. Meredith and the team have indeed visibly succeded in making this modern Pasifika restaurant appeal to a diverse set.  
On a Wednesday night, I saw the man himself, at the open kitchen calmly going about his business. He and his fellow chefs displayed amazing tranquility, as if they were doing Ikebana rather than the vigorous hiss, crackle and bustle one thinks of when sending out successive plates of accomplished food (it only makes sense that there must be a busier boiler room at the back). 
Hearty Pasifika culture loves its meats and so the menu proffers slow braised lamb shanks with spiced cocount gravy, handpicked beef scotch with palusami puree and sauce ravigote, and fried crispy skin pork hock with pineapple vinegar glaze and sapa sui - alas, dear reader, I can't tell you more about these as I abjured red meat many island moons ago. 
Continuing from the smash-hit grilled chicken from the same chef's Mr Morris that was tasted three years ago but still reigns in memory, the wood-roasted 'moa' (Samoan for 'chicken')  main course is a tour de force. One just feasts on superior product sporting voluptuous hunks, roasted expertly to luscious tenderness, slicked over by superb white sauce, topped by shiitake mushrooms (again a Meredith midas touch from his first eponymous restaurant) whose vivid supple umami is as addictive as the chicken's.
Alas, one of the most ill-cooked ingredients in NZ is Paua (abalone/ NZ sea snail) and sadly, Chef Meredith, despite his prodigious talent, could not make it work. White cuts of mostly tasteless, slightly rubbery paua were juxtaposed against taro gnocchi (nice thought but little flavour), paneer (thin tasteless discs) with a sauce of burnt orange and Indian-stye ginger-accented  'tadka' whose piquant accents did nothing to lift the overall flavour. With the amount of Indian nods though, if this Metita had a surname, it would be Patel. 
The duck breast main course would be a triumph for a home cook, but a casual back-hand slice for Meredith's caliber. Flavourful meat, not as satiny soft as the best but sufficing for haute cuisine, skated on an intense jus-'n'-red wine reduction that you find only in good restaurants, paired witlessly with witloof (endive) and cooked pineapple. 
'Paanipopo' at Metita is Master Meredith's gorgeous take on the classic Samoan buns baked in sweet coconut cream. The latter was a pleasant sauce pool at the bottom, on which sat a baked disc (the spin on the bun) joyously soaked in rum caramel, crowned by a banana sorbet that sexily crooned of hot tropics cooled by sweet liqueurs.
The second dessert also highlighted Samoan ingredients - "Pasifik Koko" through an excellent choco mousse and a less exciting cocoa crumble, with an orange-colour granita of Samoan citrus ('Tipolo') and dehydrated pineapple shards. As far as fine-dining exploits go though, Meredith has 'been there done that' similar-tasting concoctions a hundred times. Proper tropical blasts thankfully resumed with a passionfruit-sasa lapa number. What this last dessert may have lacked in bewitching finesse, it made up for in voluptuous contrasts. A sorbet of sasa-lapa (soursop fruit found from Sri Lanka to Samoa - creamy, sweet, fermented, a touch sour - not quite winning the race against custard apple/sitaphal) contrasted with  passionfruit ice-cream which seemed a little introverted, its thoughts covered by a thin shawl of nicely shaved pineapple, with the pizzazz of a chilled sweet-mint sauce leading the serenade. 
What Michael Meredith does here is what he has always done. This elite chef likes doing different things, which is why he took the ultimate leap by opening a modern Pacific cuisine restaurant, the likes of which New Zealand has very few, and the creation of which would have entailed multiple nettles of persuasion and finance unlike his previous Euro-influenced havens. His restaurants, though of high quality, have never sported world-conquering ambience or service that knocks your socks off - Metita scores solidly on both those parameters but not on a level of oohs and aahs. The menu, when taken in totality, has enough examples of dishes which do not take off, thus precluding his oeuvre's entry into the world's best. But what he does best is to make, here and there, in some appetizers, in certain main courses, in select desserts, plates of food that reinforce the maddeningly pleasurable potential of the table. It is for this that one returns to his neck of the polished woods.  
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