Intricate boutique flavours, decadent ambience, secluded in the heart of Auckland’s cultural hub. Celebrating opulence informally.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well” – Virginia Woolf
The NEXT DOOR BISTRO is situated in the heart of the Auckland’s cultural district. We are only a few minutes’ walk from numerous art galleries in Parnell, and on the doorstep of the Auckland Museum and Domain. We are also in close proximity to the enormously popular fashion and shopping district of Newmarket. The bistro is also surrounded by various corporate offices and private residences. In fact, you could say that we are next door to many facets of Auckland life both commercially and socially—hence our name, NEXT DOOR BISTRO.
The bistro boasts a tastefully renovated interior with European influence, designed by the renowned Cavit&Co (which is also next door). The lounge, bar and dining areas flow easily from one to the other, creating a buzzy and interactive air, but nevertheless remaining intimate in their own right. If the occasion calls for privacy, there is a separate dedicated dining area, The Conservatory.
The building itself is an historic one, red brick with arches discreetly housing a number of elegant design showrooms. You could be forgiven for thinking that the story ends there, but sometimes next door neighbours surprise you, and The Courtyard at the rear of the bistro is no exception. Wrought iron fences and inviting greenery encase this outside area making it an unexpected discovery. The Courtyard lends itself to lively social events, dinner parties, friends relaxing over a glass of wine, this idyllic place is a hidden jewel.
We sat down with Erin McCullough, the manager and owner, to find out more about Next Door Bistro.
Tell us about yourself – how was it that you originally got into hospitality?
I started my hospitality life on the opening team at the Wellington Park Royal back in the early 1990s, trained by the best in the industry. I developed my passion for people and quality service then. After three years I left to go overseas, and have continued to work in the industry ever since. I’ve been back in New Zealand since 2010, and had been working for the Hipgroup for the last six years, managing the St Heliers Bay Café & Bistro, but I needed a change so took a six-month breather. Three months ago, when Olivia and Stanley from Foundation on George asked me to help start up and manage their new acquisition, I couldn’t say no. Hospitality is exciting, rewarding, gratifying and embedded in me somehow.
What made you decide to open Next Door Bistro in such close proximity to your other restaurant, the much-loved Foundation on George?
When the owners of Foundation on George, Olivia and Stanley Huang, were offered the opportunity to buy TriBeCa, it seemed like a natural progression. Their success at building the reputation of the café has been ongoing and to have a restaurant next-door was a no-brainer for them. Also, the Blind Foundation area between Parnell and Newmarket is a hidden hub, with many offices and private homes, and is crying out for a local eatery.
You lived in Italy for 18 years. Has this influenced your love for fresh, high-quality ingredients?
It certainly has. Italian food is so simple. It was a shock when I came back to New Zealand, everything has a sauce, condiment or dressing—a sandwich without mayo or relish is hard to find! Since then, I’ve adjusted my taste buds and love the added flavours that enhance and enrich.
Who is heading up your kitchen currently?
Our head chef is Bryan McGruer, who has previously been working with Nourish Group, previously heading the kitchen at The Grill and Jervois Steak House.
Have your Christmas function at Next Door Bistro, set menus available for $64 and $49.
Give us an overview of your menu. What do you consider when putting a menu together?
The menu has combinations of old and new, and takes you on a wee trip around the world by taking a dish and rearranging it with a flavour twist like Ceviche with Nam Jim, or deconstructing it like Flavours of Banh Mi, which makes the flavours more interesting. Then we have the good old individual Beef Wellington just to keep everything grounded, not to mention the New Age Tiramisu. A menu should have something for everyone, for all dietary requirements. The diner should struggling to decide what to have because they want to try everything!
Do you have a favourite dish on the menu?
The Crispy Miso Duck is my favourite. The duck is coated with miso and served with a delicious Jerusalem artichoke puree—wow, the flavours marry so well. The Soft Heart Chocolate Pudding, also –wow! And it’s gluten free!
What is the key to running a successful restaurant?
There are so many factors to get right. The menu is right up there, but I think the most important is putting the guests first. After all, without them we wouldn’t be here. You must put yourself in the diners’ shoes, listen to them and exceed their expectations. Another huge factor is the staff, from the guy washing the dishes to the waiter dealing with the guests. If they aren’t happy, they don’t perform well and consequently no one will be happy.
What experience do you want your diners to come away with?
I would love them to leave raving about the food, service and value for money, Next Door should be somewhere they can return to frequently and feel like part of the furniture, but special. I would hope that diners leave feeling relaxed, and thinking about the next visit. Whether it be to have a catch up in the courtyard with friends over a glass of wine or coming to celebrate a birthday.
What philosophy drives your approach to Next Door Bistro?
As above, and I really want to stipulate that Auckland at the moment is full of new openings where the prices are over the top, just because the market will support that. This is not our philosophy at all. Somehow, it seems that restaurants are charging the earth for wine and food, and it’s just not necessary! I would rather charge a few dollars less and in doing so, encourage people to enjoy a complete dining experience.
How has your time in Italy affected how you for manage Next Door Bistro?
When I returned to New Zealand seven years ago, I was surprised at the hospitality scene—actually, disappointed. It had seemed to have gone downhill from when I left 18 years earlier. There is a general lack of service how I see it. I guess it’s a totally different European mentality after living overseas for so many years. You need to be flexible with guests’ needs, offering them something as a gesture of endearment.
Who are chefs?
Chefs are artists. They create. They have a really hard job and a very important one.
You serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What range do you have on your menu?
We are open for lunch and dinner, with an ‘in-between’ menu in the afternoon. We don’t want to be in competition with Foundation on George, which specialises in breakfast- and brunch-type dishes.
What are your specialties?
I’ve spoken about the food, but what about drinks? Special non-alcoholic soda options and very cool cocktails with appropriate names such as the Knock Knock and the Neighbourhood Watch, or Shut the Door. Having lived in Italy, I have brought some of those local traditions to Next Door—for example, the Next Door Coffee. Plus, I’ve put together a fabulous wine list which highlights local wines and winemakers, as well as some French wines. Ice cold Peroni anyone?
What are your opening hours and days?
We are open Tuesday to Saturday from 11.30am-9.30pm. This means that the bistro can be booked out on Sundays and Mondays for private functions, without encroaching on our usual trade.
In the near future will also have available a private dining room The Conservatory, available for private bookings evening only, will seat 30 people comfortably for special occasions, discrete dinners and cocktail parties. Stay tuned.
The Courtyard, which lends itself to an afternoon ‘aperativo’, reminds me of a piazza, with people coming and going and stopping to chat. I love that!