Michael Meredith’s Metita Brings Modern Pacific Cuisine To New Zealand
BY MAHI KUMAR
Critically acclaimed chef Michael Meredith pays homage to his late mother and gives Pacific cuisine the platform it deserves with new opening “Metita” in the SkyCity precinct.
14 Nov - 2023
Metita is an exceptional new opening, bringing a much needed Pacific dining experience to Aotearoa, and I have the scoop from the intimate opening experience.
Metita recently opened its doors in Auckland’s SkyCity precinct, cementing that SkyCity really does now house some of Auckland’s best restaurants with our most acclaimed chefs. With MASU by Nic Watt; Cassia by Sid and Chand Sharawat (review to come soon on an exciting menu offering here!) and Depot and Fed Deli by Al Brown (you can read about my love for Al Brown below), Michael Meredith’s addition of Metita has made the SkyCity precinct that much more attractive.
Metita is named after Michael’s late mother, Metita, who had a pancake stall at the local market in Apia whilst Michael was growing up. Michael’s inspiration for Metita came from the nostalgia of his mother’s cooking, and food that he grew up eating like coconut cream and taro. The inspiration behind Metita is to be a true representation of Pacific cuisine carefully complemented by modern culinary techniques and innovatively sourced produce.
Michael noted that the process of bringing Metita to life “took a couple of years because I just wanted to do it right.” It was important to him to bring that Polynesian flavour and make sure it was executed well. “Pacific cuisine has been around but for us it has never been celebrated in the way that I feel it should be honoured”. Michael acknowledged that the concept of Metita was to take home cooked food that was loved and celebrated amongst Pacific communities and present it at an elevated scale. To take the memories that people have enjoyed growing up but turn it into new dishes with new flavours. The idea of bringing these ingredients together is to “create a vision of what polynesian food can be”. “I’ve worked overseas, I’ve travelled and obviously been inspired by a lot of different countries and different influences in cuisine,” says Michael, “But I’ve always wanted to highlight a little bit of where I’m from.”
"Pacific cuisine has been around but for us it has never been celebrated in the way that I feel it should be honoured”
Michael acknowledged that there’s a lot of hard work that goes into creating food in Polynesian communities, and the work is shared because the intention of the food is to be shared. This fundamental nature of Polynesian culture is reflected in Metita; both in the menu offerings and the sharing style concept of food. Interestingly, despite the fact that Polynesian culture is so deeply embedded in New Zealand (and Pacific communities being at the core of New Zealand’s demographic make up), there’s always been a large gap in the market for a restaurant that has at the forefront of its focus bringing you Pacific cuisine in Auckland, the way Michael has done so in Metita.
There are Pacific delicacies in the menu (classics like corn beef, taro bread and sapa suey) but with different ingredients used to how things may be prepared at home. Michael honed in on how Polynesian cuisine is already a melting pot of different flavours; driving from East Asian and Indian influences, so the menu offering at Metita aims to only amplify that further. “If you look at the Fijian culture and the influence of Indian cooking, I’ve applied a lot of that, using spices as a way of bringing aromatic [flavours] into sauces”. I really saw this to hold true, with a lot of the dishes I tried embracing flavours I’m used to tasting in Indian cooking such as tamarind. Despite honing into the melting pot of flavours, I found that Michael executed this without taking it too far away from what Polynesian cuisine really is.
One thing that I loved upon instantly walking into Metita (housed in The Grand by SkyCity in the location which was formerly Gusto at the Grand), is the homage that Metita plays to the Pacific culture both by virtue of ambiance. Michael noted that “the ambiance needs to reflect the food that you create.” and that “a lot of time was put into creating the space and branding.” The Metita logo is a woven logo that pays tribute to the rich artistic craftsmanship of Polynesia (a practice that has been immersed in Polynesian culture for thousands of years). With Michael emphasising that “the space and the logo mean so much to me”. It’s extremely obvious that so much work did go into the space. As you look around, there are things that you can’t help but notice. Some of the panels are handwoven, which again reflects the artistic styles of Polynesia.
The ceilings are painted in such a way that they appear to fade off, which is an interior design choice that impactfully makes the space feel intimate yet spacious. The first impression was already a great one, and the food and drinks to come did not disappoint.
The first cocktail we were served with was the To Sua Tumbler cocktail which was a beautiful blue cocktail to reflect the waters of the To Sua ocean trench in Samoa. As soon as the cocktail was placed in front of me, I saw the crystal blue colouring, and I was impressed at this nod to a loved place in Samoa. The ice cube was also branded with the Metita branding which in my view was a testament to the attention to detail and how cohesively dishes and drinks were curated.
We were dying to know what Michael’s favourite dish on the menu was. He couldn’t pick a favourite dish from the menu as “he wants people to walk in with an open mind and walk away with an experience.”
The dishes I’ve sampled to date were nothing short of incredible. I can hand on heart say that I sat at the table mmming and ahhhing in absolute adoration at the delicious dish combinations that I was served. I don’t know if it’s the Indian girl in me, or the fact that my palette naturally favours dishes that curates a number of flavours, but I genuinely thought that the dishes were so well put together. The combinations were things that I wouldn’t imagine in the first instance, but really enjoyed.
To start, we were served with the king salmon which was placed on an edible betel leaf (which in my culture, are leaves you chew on as a breath freshener and kind of as a stimulant post dinner for a light buzz… so this was a cool cultural cross-over), topped with pickled mango and roe. This was an absolute explosion of flavour.The betel leaf brought a freshness while the pickled mango lent itself a more sweet and tangy flavour. It also helps that you can pick it up like a little taco and down it. When I return, I would love to challenge myself to see how many of these I can eat. I’m betting 20.
The green lipped mussels had a naturally salty taste which was perfectly complemented by tamarind (which as noted above, is one of my favourite flavours to use in Indian cooking as it just has that perfect sweet-sour tanginess) and the slightly warming kick of ginger.
Don’t even get me started on the Fe’e (which is octopus). I go insane for an octopus dish (I would like to attribute that to all the time I have spent in Spain, eating an extensive amount of Octopus). Served on a sauce which was slightly sweet and sour and dark in colour, sat 5 pieces of Octopus lightly roasted and garnished with onion and pickled radish. We were scraping the plate trying to get the sauce, and it honestly was the perfect texture of slightly chewy and still kind of tender, but with a slight outward crunch.
We were also served a Snapper, which was in a beautiful sauce that had flavours of coconut and was creamy yet light with drizzles of kaffir lime throughout it and cucumbers to garnish. Again, to say I was scooping up all the sauce here is not exaggeration in the slightest.
The side dish of carrots also did not miss. The carrots were roasted to a perfection, lightly spiced and served with crisped leaves, and I think at one point, I exclaimed that I could have easily had a whole plate of the carrots just to myself.
Obviously, this is quite literally a fraction of the menu offerings. Metita is launching the Toana'i Sunday Long lunch set menu for $85 per person, which is an offering that I will be returning to try.
I really enjoyed my first experience with Metita (and I say first, because I truly believe that it is the first of many to come). I think Michael has delivered on his promise to reimagine Pacific cuisines in a different way, and curate classic dishes with elevated flavours. I personally saw a lot of ingredients and inspiration being drawn from Indian cuisine, and it was cool to see dishes that I see my partner have at home with his family, but in a restaurant experience. Bringing a piece of the Pacific home to SkyCity, Metita, in my view, has the scope to be one of the most unique and highly revered restaurants in Auckland yet.
Mahi at the Metita media opening night