The Champions: Restaurateurs Tony Stewart & Michael Meredith

The two have been instrumental in shaping the Auckland dining scene, and have even more to give in 2018

Tony Stewart and Michael Meredith. Picture / Babiche Martens

This was supposed to be the story of two industry stalwarts, handing their keys over to a new generation. But do either of these two look as if they’re done yet?

It’s been a tough few years for fine dining. A menu is food plus imagination plus skill, and none of those three elements has ever been in better shape in Auckland. Customers, however, have been increasingly less willing to invest the time and money into this sort of night out.

Why spend $250 on a meal when you can get something casual and low commitment down the road for $25, goes the reasoning. Or, you could binge watch MasterChef, buy a home sous vide and do it yourself.

It’s only when you eat a dish prepared by Michael Meredith, or sit in a restaurant run by Tony Stewart, that you realise there is still a level of dining so good that it’s unimaginable until you try it. That’s what Meredith’s and Clooney have been — a glimpse at how good things can be.

The end of 2017 has seen Michael close the door for good on his Dominion Rd restaurant. For Tony it has been a tumultuous few months as he’s asked himself, is it all worth it?

You can create whatever magic you like on a menu but you need someone to eat it (and someone to cook it — both have struggled in their own way to find the right kitchen staff).

Both men can be proud that their DNA is an integral part of the Auckland dining scene. Working at Tony Stewart’s Clooney is a badge of honour pinned on CVs across the city, and Michael Meredith’s proteges are spread far and wide too, running great restaurants like Pasture, Han, Orphan's Kitchen and Lillius, to name a few.

READ: What It Takes to Survive Auckland's Competitive Restaurant Scene

So what happens next? A comfortable retirement in a rest home for ex-restaurateurs, sharing stories of the souffle that got away? Don’t you believe it.

Michael will continue working with Air New Zealand, Miele and the Eat My Lunch social enterprise that has redefined giving and filled hundreds of thousands of empty bellies.

He has a taste for how his expertise with ingredients and flavour can create change, and is working on a new project, a sustainable food business connecting with other people who are looking to make a difference.

And the light is back in Tony Stewart’s eyes. As we went to press he was on the verge of announcing his own exciting plans, a project which will once again transform Aucklanders’ expectations of what it means to go out and eat.

Will this be at Clooney? We can only wait until the new year to find out.

We are so lucky to have these two. Without them our city would not be the international dining destination it has become. Neither man settles for anything less than 10/10 in anything he does. That’s what makes their next steps in 2018 so very exciting.

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New Zealand Herald

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