Auckland may, imho, be New Zealand's most boring city, but it appears to harbour an extraordinary number of the most incredible restaurants. I think, gastronomically speaking, Auckland is top dog in all of New Zealand.
We had a wonderful induction to New Zealand cuisine at The Grove, but that was surpassed by the sublime Clooney. Tempering innovative haute cuisine with comforting flavours, Clooney distinguishes itself from other molecular gastronomy outfits with a uniquely heartwarming appeal. It's like the restaurant takes you out of your comfort zone, but then puts you in another comfort zone that's wholly unexpected. And while the flavour compositions are, at first blush, novel and unfamiliar, it quickly becomes familiar in a way that we found ourselves asking how no one ever thought to put them all together before. It's been a while since we had fine dining like this, and it's mind-blowingly exciting and we were absolutely enthralled.
The chef's Japanese-American heritage features heavily in the food, so you'll find distinct elements of Japanese influences, effortlessly weaved together with American sensibilities in Clooney's fare. I think, to date, Clooney is the best meal we've had in all of New Zealand. And it didn't cost as much as you'd expect, a 3-course dinner, made substantive with snacks, was priced very reasonably at (NZ$130). A meal like that in SG would have been priced a-third more expensive.
Service was also impeccable. Our waiter, a hipster personified with his man bun and facial hair, was gregarious and eloquent. He took the time to elaborate on the intricacies of every dish, and slowed down when he noticed I was taking notes.
First of the trio of snacks was a duo of Nashi Pear compressed in white sangria and crowned with baby mint leaves. This was quite the refresher, prepping and cleansing our palates in anticipation of the sumptuousness to come.
Next up was an "edible forest" - set on a moss bed, was a deep-fried Beetroot Fibre piped in with creamed cheese and sprinkled with yoghurt powder, and that cigar-looking thingamabob was a Nori Cracker stuffed with pureed sushi rice, and dotted with crispy quinoa "barnacles".
The last of the snacks was a bunch of semi-dehydrated tomatoes and yuzu peel blanketed in clear watermelon gelatin, drizzled with elderflower oil, and flecked with shiso flowers which gave an acute bite.
The filler was a set of naturally fermented bread, using flour that was milled in-house only an hour before service, paired with a kaffir lime-smoked butter that was at once light with citrusy accents and heavy with smoky notes.
My first course was a soft cake of Roasted Golden Kumara seasoned with rausu kelp, set in a sauce of koji in barley butter and manuka oil, and burnished with dehydrated cherry blossoms.
The Hubs' first course was a Hiramasa Kingfish Tartare blended with chives, sesame, yuzu peel, koji vinaigrette and lime dashi, swaddled in an icy kohlralbi watermelon radish wrapper, crowned with shiso flowers and a wasabi blob, in a pool of yuzu pepper paste sauce.
My main course was a meltingly tender Slow Braised Devon Black Pork Belly, infused with carrot juice, and showered with fermented carrot crisps. This was sided by carrots done 3 ways: carrot mash, roasted carrots, and dehydrated then twisted carrots.
The Hubs' main course was a Seared Hapuka, fleshy and flaky and accompanied by celeriac mash, roasted celeriac tubes, sunchoke chips, and a sauce of parsley oil.
A mid-course snack, the charred notes of the Roasted Broccolini was enlivened by the soy-olive oil dressing, and nutty elements of the shaved almonds.
We were served a kitschily plated Feijoa Sorbet, made from a local fruit, as a palate cleanser. It's reminiscent of guava, milky but still fruity in a citrusy way.
For dessert, I had the Bay Leaf Ice-cream with preserved berry compote, greenwood sorrel, verbeno oil. I loved its bracing, tart, and grassy flavours. A wonderful finale to the gut-busting meal.
The Hubs had the Hokey Pokey, a honeycomb and vanilla ice cream stick on a twig, coated in a dulce de leche-infused cajeta, bee pollen and edible flowers. The gorgeous creation was surprisingly comforting, which the chef had apparently meant to be evocative of a NZ childhood.
Ask for a table facing the window to the pass, it gives you the best vantage of the kitchen.
33 Sale Street
Tel: +64 9 358 1702
Open daily from 6pm to 9pm