Since bursting on to Auckland’s restaurant scene 11 years ago, Clooney has built a reputation as one of New Zealand’s leading restaurants. A moody, modern designer interior creates the perfect setting for the ultimate in fine dining, with the Belle Epoque private dining room also on offer for an even more exclusive experience.
After a brief closure at the start of 2018, following a public fall out between the previous head chef and owner Tony Stewart in December 2017, Clooney officially reopened its doors on 14 February 2018 with a fresh look and Head Chef Nobu Lee newly at the helm.
Chef Nobu Lee and owner Tony Stewart
I was delighted to be invited to visit Clooney just two days after the reopening and sample the restaurant’s relaunch for myself. You would never have known the team were less than 72 hours into things when we arrived and seamless service and exquisite food were the order of the evening. It was a pleasure to watch the wait staff and kitchen working together in harmony, with nothing more than the occasional murmur to break the careful assembly of each perfectly put together dish.
In between conducting overall proceedings, Stewart took the time to come over and check in with us over the course of the evening. Although the change to the restaurant operations was not planned, “It all worked out beautifully,” he says. He and Chef Lee first met several years ago and both were pleased to seize the opportunity for Chef Lee to join the Clooney family. There is an ease of camaraderie between Stewart and Lee, and we watched them conspiring on recipe ideas, tweaks and improvements as the night progressed. “We’ve just come up with a new dish,” Stewart grinned as we bade our farewells.
But what of the food? Well, it was beautiful and an experience to be remembered. Intended as a culinary tour of New Zealand, Clooney’s menu brings the best and most vibrant of local ingredients to life on its plates with an international twist and Chef Lee’s signature style of bold flavours and Asian influences. A full Degustation Menu, with available wine pairings, runs throughout the week with an A La Carte menu on offer on set days as well.
A selection of creative canapes set the tone for the evening. Each was a celebration of New Zealand ingredients, creatively presented so they were a feast for the eye as well as the tastebuds. Highlights were a fragrant mussel balanced on an edible shell, baby sweetcorn with corn and kiwi puree, and a potato with sour cream that was exquisite in its simplicity. There is no such thing as perfection and we agreed to disagree with Stewart on the turnip consommé….
Replete from the canapes it was on to the six main courses. Again these were a showcase of ingredients and skilful cooking. Interesting flavour combinations included the rich venison tartar paired with chocolate blood ganache and black garlic. Clooney’s in-house sommelier provided engaging commentary on the paired wines and his reasons behind each choice, with most of the beautiful wines coming from Kiwi vineyards.
For an indulgent night out, Clooney is it. Named in March 2018 as one of Metro’s Top 50 Auckland 2018 restaurants once again, Clooney’s reputation endures and with Chef Nobu Lee at the helm the future is very exciting.