Photographs: David Straight
The Engine Room has always been brilliant. Now it’s better. It opened eight years ago in a 1930s post office and when it did it caused a sea change in Auckland dining – you could have some of the best eating in town, but it didn’t need to be somewhere posh: you could have steak frites and it could be the best thing you’d eaten that month and the service would be thoughtful and bouncy and somehow both casual and not. There was – and is – a beautifully hand-written blackboard menu that changed often.
Then last year, owners Natalia Schamroth and Carl Koppenhagen – she’s front of house, he slings the pots though they’re both chefs – finally bought the building from their landlord, closed for five weeks, and got Fearon Hay to redesign the place, taking over the 1970s office space next door and doubling the size of the restaurant. All the good things are the same: dark wooden floors, bistro chairs, that thoughtful food, an open kitchen and the same sense of being somewhere easy and yet refined. They’ve added lots of timber and dark metal and Portuguese tiles and a big long bar that connects new and old. It’s mellowed – it feels more sedate.
The food hasn’t changed, and that’s good. Koppenhagen and Schamroth take a dish and tweak it, then continue to play until it is how it should have been in the first place. Middle Eastern, Thai, German – it doesn’t matter. Their steak is still among the best in town. The schnitzel ($34) is legendary. We recently ate a Middle Easternish lamb rump ($35) with bulghar, baba ghanoush and pomegranate, slightly smoky and spicy and sweet all at the same time. So was the Sri Lankan duck salad ($24) with curry leaves and coconut. There was a panna cotta ($16) that was just held together, wobbly and silky. It’s a place for both special occasions and rainy weeknights and Auckland is lucky to have it. SFG
HOURS Tuesday to Saturday, dinner from 6pm. Friday lunch 12 to 2.30pm.
ADDRESS 115 Queen Street, Northcote Point, ph 480-9502. engineroom.net.nz
IMPORTANT DETAILS Limited parking around the back.