Sunderland’s engine room turns the heat up with new menu – what to expect from the firehouse bistro


It has been a long road for what was once the main fire station in the city center. Ten years ago it was a shell of a building that went mostly unnoticed except for the pigeons calling its rafters home, but businessman Paul Callaghan saw the potential of its awe-inspiring, Edwardian features and rich history and set out to transform it into an arts and culture multi for the city.

He created the MAC Trust to steer the 1908 building, abandoned for over 20 years, to a new future and to make it the cornerstone of a new cultural district for the city.

After extensive restoration work on the main building, which still bears the names of former firefighters above the pickets and signage recovered from the fire station, it reopened with great fanfare in 2017 as the bistro de la machine room on the ground floor, the upper floors housing dance and theater studios.

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After more than a year of closure due to lockdown, the engine room bistro is once again open at the fire station near High Street West

But that was not the end for this phoenix from its ashes. In December 2021, it hosted its auditorium, an additional £ 11million wing built on the site of a former parking lot.

As part of the reopening, a new management team is in place at Pub Culture operators, including new CEO Rhys McKinnell who was previously Restaurant Manager for the Fenwick Department Store Group where he was responsible for the development of their flagship Food Hall in Newcastle. as well as the company’s 30 group-wide bars and restaurants.

With new faces at the helm, this has resulted in changes to the menu. Here’s what to expect from a visit:

The engine room at the fire station.

There is no doubt that the bright red heritage of this building with many nods to the past in the decor of the engine room. The original Edwardian tiling and flooring has been restored and upgraded with fixtures from other fire stations such as salvaged fire buckets, helmets and desks.

Window-seated stands make the most of the arches that would once have framed fire trucks as they scrambled to fight the fires. It’s a great example of how an old building can be modernized while honoring its past.

Seating is a range of regular cabins, stools and table seats, as well as outdoor seating up front, perfect for the warmer months. The electrical substation up front is also going to be moved in the next few months, which will really open up the front seat.

Starters and small plates top left: spicy hummus, grilled halloumi and crispy Asian chicken

The last time I ate in the engine room was a few years ago, and while the food certainly filled a hole, it wasn’t particularly noticeable.

But the new team upped the pressure and improved the offer. In harmony with the warm environment, the menu is pure comfort. Think classic fish and chips, roast turkey crown, ham knuckle, burgers, curries and cutlets.

Pub classics, well done, are very present, but the menu also offers more unusual options.

Panackelty main course, upper course. The bottom dish is a slowly cooked pork belly with crackle, black pudding, layers of potatoes, Bramley apple butter, and sage sauce.

I was impressed with the menu of starters and small plates, so much so that we ordered three between the two of us to start.

Fried halloumi is ubiquitous these days, but served here with a fig and balsamic chutney (£ 6) it really elevated the dish.

The spicy hummus (£ 5.50) was also better than norm, punctuated with pomegranates which added acidity to the dish, which we sponge up with the flatbread that came with it.

For a real kick out, try the Crispy Asian Chicken (£ 7) served with sriracha butter, black sesame, and a kimchi coleslaw which was a really punchy mix of flavors.

After tasting kimchi, Seoul’s signature dish, my taste buds returned to Sunderland for my main course: the panackelty.

While this is one of the more Mackem meals, you don’t often see it on menus around town and this version was just what I needed on a rough January night.

There are lots of nods to the past in the decor

Again, this raised the game and, rather than just a corned beef stew, the pot was filled with a slowly cooked brisket that melted in your mouth with the rich sauce, along with plenty of bacon and bacon. sausages.

It was sort of a deconstructed panackelty with the layered potatoes and roasted vegetables served on the side of the pan, but that meant you had even more to dip into the pan. Priced at £ 15, it was a belly-breaking portion which is exactly what you would expect from this Sunderland classic.

As such, I didn’t have room for dessert, but options include chocolate gin and candied lime cheescake and tonic (£ 7) and hot spiced apple and plum crumble with crème à la crème. vanilla (£ 6.50).

A Sunday lunch menu is also available.

For lighter bites, there is a menu of sandwiches and snacks at the bar, as well as a children’s menu where you can buy two courses and a drink for £ 9.

Appetizers and small platters start at £ 5.50 for a red lentil and butternut squash soup topped with pumpkin seeds, with the most expensive entree being the fried king prawns in garlic butter at £ 8.50 , which is fair for seafood.

Main courses start at £ 14 for an engine room burger, then £ 22 for a rib eye steak, which is again competitively priced for the steak.

There is a good range of wines, cocktails, beers on tap, and on tap options available, as well as mocktails and low-alcohol and non-alcoholic cans.

Cocktails start from £ 8 with wines starting at £ 3.50 a glass. The beers on tap change regularly. By the minute, you can sit back and relax with local beers, including a foggy VPA and Sunderland icon Samson for £ 4 a pint.

Opening hours

The machine room bar and bistro is now open Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to late and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. It gets very crowded before a concert at the Auditorium and Empire, so it’s best to book in advance to eat.

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Current guest draft beers
The fire station dates from 1908.
The auditorium joined the development of the fire station in December 2021
The substation will be moved to open up the outdoor space


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