As my dinner date and I head to The Churchill, the capital's newest British pub, we recall the memories of our first trips to London. His was a hurried four-hour layover that necessitated a whirlwind tour of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and, of course, a jaunt to the local pub for a satisfying taste of world famous fish and chips. My memory is of holing up in a cosy, dimly lit pub, ordering pint after pint of life-giving ale on a stereotypically cold and drizzly day.
So it was with high hopes and anticipation of a quintessentially British recreation that we enter The Churchill on Lambton Quay, in the heart of Wellington's business district. As we pry open the cobalt blue and gold trimmed doors, high ceilings and crystal chandeliers instantly evoke traditional British pub décor, while kitschy iconography — murals of the Beatles and the Queen, a red telephone box and a massive Union Jack flag painted on the ceiling — simultaneously vie for attention.
The three-storey building offers something different on every level: the ground-level pub serves beer and grub, the basement den provides an intimate atmosphere and stiff whisky drinks, and the rooftop bar slings strong and classy G&Ts. We settle at the pub and the server, who arrives promptly with a smile and a British accent, assures us that we can still order a gin drink if we want to, as if reading our minds. Though the pub has a great selection of local beers and British brews (including Fuller's London Pride), we do, in fact, order two G&Ts — a cucumber and rose Hendricks with a refreshing dash of elderflower ($13), and a complex, aromatic concoction made with oriental-spiced Opihr gin, as soul-warming as a chai latte ($14).
As we mull over the menu for dinner, David Bowie croons in the background and then the Clash rocks the casbah. We decide to stick to the classics: split green pea and pulled ham hock soup ($13), fish 'n' chips ($23) and bangers and mash ($20). The soup is hearty and the ham adds a savoury kick, but I was a bit disappointed by the lukewarm temperature it was served at. My fish is expertly beer battered and delightfully non-greasy, and the chips are cooked in beef dripping and served alongside mushy peas. My boyfriend is impressed by the bangers and mash, a classier rendition than the original, with crispy leeks and a rich onion gravy that take this comfort food up a notch.
For dessert, we indulge in sticky toffee pudding ($10), an intensely sweet, but irresistible date-packed cake, balanced by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Espresso martinis keep us lingering longer and provide the perfect nightcap.
For traditional British tipple and pub fare, The Churchill is bang on.