Ever since its doors opened in 2006, The Engine Room in the former Northcote Pt post office has epitomised what a good neighbourhood bistro should be. Owners Natalia Schamroth and Carl Koppenhagen have consistently provided locals and visitors with exquisite comfort food such as the small, freshly baked olive and parmesan pinwheel pastries that often turn up as a surprise before your other food arrives. Then there's the twice-baked goat's cheese souffle, schnitzel and churros to die for. But most of all, the bistro is a place where you feel welcome, a kitchen away from home. Now they've published their own cookbook, The Engine Room Eatery - a magnificent treasure of recipes for all the favourites and more. We caught up with Natalia and Carl to find out how they've managed to do it all and remain so enthusiastic and committed to great food.
What is the magic ingredient which makes The Engine Room so enduringly popular? There is no one ingredient that makes a restaurant popular. It is certainly a combination of things but consistency is definitely key. As well as ambience, attentive service, tasty and interesting food, the informality of our eatery seems to attract regular clientele. We have been committed to working every service in our restaurant, that makes a difference.
Do you think couples make for a good combination when it comes to running a restaurant? Yes and no! Yes, you are working towards a common goal. No, you spend way too much time together.
Who comes up with the menu? Our menu is often inspired by food we have eaten on our travels and what is in season. We both discuss the menu and often dishes are created at home. They get tweaked along the way by both of us.
What's the trick to keeping The Engine Room fresh and exciting, while keeping the regulars happy too? We are always on the lookout for interesting ingredients, wine, beer, and boutique purveyors who are as passionate about what they are doing as we are.
There are a few dishes that will never leave our menu or there would be a riot. The twice-baked goat's cheese souffle, the veal schnitzel, the steak frites and our version of churros con chocolate have all been on our menu since we opened in 2006. They are the dishes our regular customers crave, they are the dishes they know will be here when they come. Isn't that what a local bistro is all about? The rest of the menu changes regularly.
What makes a good diner versus a bad diner? That is a whole other article! Firstly, good diners turn up to their confirmed booking. Ask any restaurateur ... no shows could be the ruin of any restaurant. A diner who embraces the experience they have in a particular restaurant, a customer who goes with the flow, makes a good diner. A bad diner is the opposite!
Where do you like to eat out? Our favourite restaurant to eat at is Sean's Panaroma in North Bondi, Sydney. The Auckland restaurant scene is booming right now, there are so many great restaurants to go to but we tend to go pretty casual on our days off. We love Depot, Canton Cafe and KK Malaysian.
What's your definition of "honest food/comfort food'? Roast Chicken. Food that you crave.
How much has travelling, and your respective European heritage, influenced your food style? Immensely. We both grew up in homes with European parents, which has defined our palates. We have both travelled a lot in Europe, Asia, America and the Middle East. We love to eat our way through different countries; this is where we find the inspiration for what we like to share in our restaurant.
What do you say to people who see running a restaurant/cooking for a career as hard work, with long unsociable hours? It is bloody hard work. But if you love it, like we do, it becomes an obsession. Yes, there are unsociable hours but we work in an incredibly fun and sociable environment. We get to sleep in every day, don't have to deal with rush hour traffic, or queue for the treadmill at the gym.
Best meal you've ever eaten? There is no one meal ... there are hundreds.
The Engine Room Eatery (Godwit, $70) is available now from engineroom.net.nz and from Oct 19 at all good bookstores.