Auckland’s Merediths restaurant has been awarded the title of Supreme Winner of the Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year Awards 2011.
Of the many worthy contenders, the final judging panel was unanimous in its decision that the restaurant stood out in every respect.
“Michael Meredith tells a compelling story,” says Sarah Nicholson, editor of Cuisine. “His utterly original food has evolved over the past year, during which time he has also decided to focus solely on highlighting New Zealand ingredients. The dining room is sophisticated and intimate, the service warm yet intelligent. He has created a strong sense of identity that defines the entire experience.”
Meredith accepted the award at an exclusive gathering hosted by Cuisine magazine for the restaurant industry, at the Auckland Museum on 15 August.
The Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year Awards, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, is New Zealand’s only national restaurant competition, setting the benchmark in dining excellence and regarded as the ultimate award within the hospitality industry.
Merediths also took out the Best Smart Dining Metropolitan accolade in the awards. Seven other category winners were drawn from throughout the country, stretching from North Otago to Whangarei.
Head judge Kerry Tyack says the decision-making progress was particularly tough this year.
“Diners in this country are increasingly well served – not just in the quality of food and service, but also in terms of variety and value,” says Tyack. “However, it is clear that Michael Meredith’s food has developed a consistency in execution, married with a creative edge that makes it truly exceptional. Dining there is a world-class experience.”
Guest international judge Joanna Savill agrees. Says the highly regarded food writer, director of the Crave Sydney Food Festival and co-editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, “There is no doubt that Merediths was the most original of all the restaurants I visited. Michael Meredith pushes the proverbial envelope with every dish, taking his customers on a multicoloured journey of tastes, textures and ingredients.”
Samoan-born Meredith moved to Auckland at the age of 13. Always drawn to the kitchen as a child, he later worked at renowned Auckland restaurants Vinnies and The Grove before opening Merediths in 2007. Since that time he believes maturity has given him the confidence to pare back his cooking style. “I feel more comfortable in myself and I think that’s reflected in my food,” he says. “Now my focus is on showcasing the country’s best produce and knowing an ingredient will carry itself without the need for too much technique.” From 24 August, he intends to realise his long-time goal to serve solely degustation menus at his restaurant, ranging from five to nine courses.
“Winning this award from Cuisine means a lot to me,” says Meredith. “It confirms, and gives me great confidence in, my vision for the direction and philosophy of Merediths. It also really celebrates all the efforts of my team.”
Nicholson says it was exciting to see the number of first-time finalists this year. “For a country with a relatively young restaurant culture, the New Zealand dining scene is coming of age. Casual dining spots – both regionally and in cities – are offering inventive, truly delicious dishes using local ingredients. And at the top end, many of our chefs are now operating at a world-class level. It’s something of which we can be immensely proud.”
Merediths was one of five restaurants awarded Cuisine’s ultimate five-star rating, along with à Deco, Ambeli, Cocoro and The French Café. “A coveted five stars denotes a restaurant with a clear vision, that has achieved what it set out to do,” says Nicholson.
Full profiles of the winners and all the Top 50 finalists are in the 2011 Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year Awards booklet, free with the latest issue of Cuisine, on sale 22 August.
Note: Wellington’s Logan Brown is ineligible to be judged for the 2011 awards as co-owner Al Brown is Cuisine’s senior food writer.
Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year 2011 Supreme Winner, category winners and runners-up. Quotes from judges:
Supreme Winner: Merediths, Auckland (and Best Smart Dining Metropolitan)
“In the last 12 months, Merediths has become one of the country’s most exciting dining experiences,” says Cuisine editor, Sarah Nicholson. “The food is cutting edge without being confusing; on the plate there is colour, contrast and a strong sense of self.” International guest judge Joanna Savill agrees: “Each plate is such fun – full of little buried treasures.”
Best Smart Dining Regional (brought to you by Vittoria Coffee): à Deco, Whangarei
“Also the winner of this category in 2010, à Deco continues to deliver a sophisticated and delicious experience. Style and substance really come together here. It’s like embarking on a glorious ocean liner, complete with full art deco trimmings. The flavours are great and it’s unashamedly Kiwi, with touches of nostalgia.”
Best Casual Dining Metropolitan (brought to you by Sanpellegrino): Arbitrageur, Wellington
“Arbitrageur has a buzzy atmosphere and slick surrounds. Dining at its polished copper tables, surrounded by sparkling chandeliers, makes you feel like you’re in a chic European bistro. Chef-owner Chris Green delivers assured, French- and Italian-inspired flavours and the cellar, home to 600-plus offerings, is a definite highlight.”
Best Casual Dining Regional (brought to you by Electrolux): First Equal: Riverstone Kitchen, North Otago
“Riverstone Kitchen – Supreme Winner of the Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year 2010 – continues to impress with its strong sense of place. It’s a cafe by day, casual restaurant by night, delivering well-cooked, unpretentious food paired with superb service. Much use is made of local produce, including a good deal from the restaurant’s own garden.”
Best Casual Dining Regional (brought to you by Electrolux): First Equal: Palate, Hamilton
“Mat McLean produces standout food with a strong commitment to localism (his attention to detail extends to raising his own Wagyu beef). In the six years since he opened Palate, he’s raised the bar for regional dining throughout New Zealand.”
Best Specialist Restaurant (brought to you by Plumm Glassware): Cocoro, Auckland
“Chef Makoto Tokuyama fuses Japanese cuisine’s exacting techniques, delicate flavours and exquisite presentation with intrinsically Kiwi ingredients. The chic, intimate dining room is the perfect backdrop, while knowledgeable service (and a killer sake list) rounds out a very rewarding experience.”
Best Winery Restaurant (brought to you by Whitestone Cheese): First Equal: Pegasus Bay, Canterbury
“The setting at Pegasus Bay is one of the finest in the country, whether you’re seated by the dining room’s roaring fire or enjoying al fresco views of the lake. The menu highlights the best of the Canterbury region, perfectly complemented by the winery’s best.”
Best Winery Restaurant (brought to you by Whitestone Cheese): First Equal: Black Barn Bistro, Hawke’s Bay
“There’s a wonderful feeling of being in the heart of the vineyard at this Hawke’s Bay winery restaurant. Grapes trail overhead in the courtyard, while the light-filled dining room boasts wonderful views, and the locally focused food is a highlight.”
Cuisine Restaurant Personality of the Year (brought to you by Villa Maria Estate): Jonny Schwass, Christchurch
“After his restaurant was destroyed in the February earthquake, chef Jonny Schwass threw himself into helping his city rebuild. From donating his services to fundraising events throughout the country, to keeping his brand alive through cooking in people’s homes, his commitment and drive made him the standout contender for this award.”
Best Smart Dining Metropolitan Runner-Up: Ambeli, Wellington
“Owner Shae Moleta’s passion shines through in every detail of Ambeli. His wit, vivacity and superb wine knowledge are backed up by chef Josh Evans’ inventive and appealing menu.”
Best Smart Dining Regional Runner-Up: Boutereys Bar & Restaurant, Nelson
“Matt Bouterey sends his chefs out to local farms to harvest the produce for his restaurant and his team makes as much as possible in-house. The smart menu is a showcase of the Nelson region’s best.”
Best Casual Dining Metropolitan Runner-Up: Ponsonby Road Bistro, Auckland
“Ponsonby Rd’s chicest eatery, this eponymous bistro is sophisticated, buzzy and welcoming, with great food and polished service. It will keep you coming back.”