For everything there is a season, especially when you’re dedicated to delivering high-end artisan products to a discerning dining audience in an Auckland inner-city oasis. And for Michael Dearth – long-term co-owner of The Grove in St Patrick’s Square – his season recently has been one of personal uncertainty, his season of discontent. As he puts it, “I think most people these days are wondering about where we’re spending our time.” For him, that meant measuring up how much his time could be “split and divided” between The Grove and Baduzzi, the other restaurant he and wife Annette own. And so, over the winter he decided that, after 18 years of ownership of The Grove, it was time to sell up.

Fear not. It was but a fleeting notion, born of long sessions filming MasterChef NZ, as well as running two top-end spots.

However, Michael and Annette are back with renewed magic. The Grove remains under their stewardship, and Michael has got his mojo back – in big dollops.

That’s in large part due to the arrival of new head chef Cory Campbell, who brings with him a stellar international CV which includes Noma (Copenhagen), Vue de Monde (Melbourne) and Kokomo (Fiji).

The Grove alumni includes such plum chefs as Sid Sahrawat, Michael Meredith and Ben Bayly and, like his predecessors, Cory will enjoy a close collaboration with Michael and Annette.“The Grove has had some amazing chefs,” avows Michael. “And now Cory is listening to Annette and me; he’s honouring where we’ve been and he’s taking the lead about where we want to go.”

The Grove has certainly been on a long road in the last three years. There was the remodelling of St Patrick’s Square, which saw diners have to pick their path through a maze of earthworks. Then the ongoing nightmare of the Albert St stretch of the City Rail Link development. All that before COVID. “There’s been a lot of patchworking and juggling around to perform at a standard where we excel, regardless of the constraints,” Michael says.

An illustration of the level of that excellence lies in Cory’s current dégustation menu, including innovative crayfish doughnuts – “a totally immersive malty, salty experience,” Michael says.

Michael and Annette have two young teenagers, Ezra, 15, and Lucia, 13, who are both embracing the delights and challenges of hospo life. And then there is their third late-teen: The Grove itself. They’ve weathered the angst of adolescent turmoil with this, their oldest baby.

And with the wisdom of that experience, Michael says, “We celebrate greatness and we celebrate food presented in a great environment, with kindness and savviness. I think if you look at history, I’d say, ‘You can do this, because you’ve done it before and you can prove yourself’.” GERALDINE JOHNS