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One of Auckland's best known restaurants closes its doors after 13 years


Last month, one of New Zealand's best known restaurants shut its kitchen after 13 years of success.

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Clooney's chapter ended while its books were still full of eager diners. Source: 1 NEWS

Famed central Auckland venue Clooney's chapter ended while its books were still full of eager diners, but its owner is done.

"I think the time is right. I don't want to be an absent dad and husband. I've always said to myself and tried to be true to myself that if my health didn't give me the energy and drive that I've always had, I wouldn't do it," says Tony Stewart.

Tony has cystic fibrosis (CF), a life threatening disorder where the lungs and digestive system are blocked with mucus and can cause serious infections.

"You're creating sputum that one day I'll drown in. If it's a tough service, your breathing pattern changes and my breathing becomes shallow. I'll go home and I'll be trying my hardest to bring that up for a good hour and I'll do the same in the morning."

Originally, doctors didn't think Tony, 49, would survive to see his eighth birthday.

"And then it became 18. I didn't think I'd make it to a ripe old age. But at the same time, it makes you incredibly determined and resilient."

Tony lived fast and loose. He became a ski instructor and funded his party lifestyle with hospitality jobs. He opened a couple of bars, but eventually got sick of drunks and became inspired to open a restaurant.

"Over a summer, I wrote down everything I wanted out of a dining experience. Conversation. How you interact with the dining room. I wanted people to feel comfortable in the seats and in communicating.

"I wanted people to be in a light that made them look good. I wanted a room that wasn't about the restaurant, it was about them."

So fine dining restaurant Clooney was conceived.

It wasn't a cheap night out - a tasting menu with wine pairing would set you back $280 per person. But Clooney was one of only four triple hatted restaurants in the country - our equivalent of the Michelin star.

Alpine salmon, ocean beef tenderloin, blackened octopus with quince and persimmon - Clooney prided itself in telling "the New Zealand food story"

"A year ago, we went 100 per cent New Zealand ingredients. I think that's the way of the future... to act more responsibly and sustainably," Tony says.

For years, Tony kept his battle with cystic fibrosis private, but found that it was only when he started talking about it that he managed to understand it.

"I've got a lot happier as a person. CF doesn't hold me back, it's made me stronger and more determined."

Tony is 50 soon. It's a milestone he never thought he'd reach.

A purchase agreement for the central city venue could be signed within the next two weeks. Tony hopes it will become a cocktail lounge or supper club. And he's not done himself either.

"I want to continue what I've done here and that's a NZ food story. I don't know how that will transpire at the moment but I get a feeling that that is my calling."

But first, some family time and the odd ski trip here and there. Then the man who's passionate about New Zealand's food story will start a new story of his own.