The Churchill is located on the 20th floor of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel. Photo / Babiche Martens

Jesse Mulligan Reviews The Churchill, Auckland City's Sexy New Rooftop Bar

Our dining out editor discovers a new rooftop bar destined to be a central city go-to

Cuisine: Bar/bistro
Address: 396 Queen St, central city
Phone: (09) 393 8240
Drinks: Fully licensed
Reservations: Not accepted
From the menu: Dukkah calamari $16; salmon tartare $22; malai chicken slider $14; beef tataki $24; lamb hot dog $18; kokoda $22
Rating: 15/20
Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.

The Churchill takes some getting to, being in a hotel whose entrance is on a different street to its address.

Once you’ve found it, you walk in and press the elevator call button but you can’t see all of the doors and the arrival beep is almost noiseless so you keep missing your ride. Inside the elevator you press the button for The Churchill on the 20th floor, and the carriage begins to move upwards and you think “at last, I’m here”. But when the doors open you don’t see a swanky gin bar, you see a hotel passageway. A Canadian man with a belt bag steps in. Together you return to the ground floor.

The bar boasts an extensive gin list. Photo / Babiche Martens

Someone needed to swipe me up, it turns out. I hope the rest of you don’t have that much trouble. I can’t believe that you will. In any case, the destination is worth the journey: a genuine high-rise venue to join the Sky Tower’s Sugar Club and Hi-So in Customs St. This is a beautiful room in a stunning location. Every customer is excited to be here. The view creates its own atmosphere and makes everybody at least 20 per cent more glamorous.

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We were surrounded by happy groups of friends who would be telling all their colleagues about this place the next day. I’ll be surprised if you can get in by now. It is Auckland’s greatest new place for a drink. But I was hungry too.

“We’re trying to choose between the sashimi and the kokoda,” I said to the waiter. “Have you tried them?”

“I’ve tried the sashimi,” he started, then paused. “But not here.”

The snapper kokoda. Photo / Babiche Martens

Well, he was trying his best. They’re stronger on the drinks I think, one of them offering me a long but quite credible explanation of how the size of the ice cube should determine the duration of one’s stirring. “I leave it just this side of the bell curve,” he concluded, and he must have been on to something because my cocktail was both cold and tasty.

I got a bit of an Emperor’s New Clothes-vibe from the gin list, which must have featured 150 different brands at a variety of prices and alleged flavours. I was going to tell you that they probably all taste the same but I’m booked in for a distillery visit on my Gold Coast holiday later this year and no doubt I’ll come back with 100 things to say about juniper and orris root.

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So for $16 you choose your gin and then choose your tonic, hoping the waiter won’t catch you whispering “eeny meeny miney mo” under your breath, and minutes later it comes, in an unexpectedly effeminate glass and scattered, in our case, with coriander seeds. I don’t know what I was expecting but I crunched down on a few of these with my first sip and enjoyed something much like a dusty mouthful of lemon bark. Being a sophisticated Viva reader you will probably know better than to try and munch the garnish but I guess part of me was assuming that, untoasted and wet, they weren’t there merely for the fragrance.

Salmon tartare. Photo / Babiche Martens

Like I said, I was hungry. But nothing on the menu was very exciting. You can’t go wrong with raw fish of course but, I wondered, while browsing the sliders and pan-Asian small plates, what it was that this chef really wants to be known for. We ordered a selection without much enthusiasm and by the end I sort of wished I’d saved my appetite.

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It was hard to imagine what a lamb shoulder hot dog would look like but it was meat cooked almost to the point of puree then fashioned into a cylindrical capsule, crumbed and deep fried on a stick. It was served with an anonymous sticky sauce and I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy it.

Beef tataki. Photo / Babiche Martens

The beef tataki was the best thing we ate: bright slices of crimson beef, just lightly dressed and garnished with Japanesey treats — edamame, pickled daikon and shitake. The fresh raw fish dishes were on the money — salmon tartare again judiciously sauced and served with mild Middle Eastern flavours: sumac crisps and a wet avocado labneh. The snapper kokoda worked well, clean tasting and acidified with an unexpected citrus — orange I think — that tilted it away from unpredictability.

But the chicken sliders were disappointing — chook and bread will never taste terrible but it was pitched as a flavoursome Indian dish and there were no spices apparent. Maybe they should have put those coriander seeds in the gin to better use.

So: a perfect place for a drink, an adequate place for a feed. The view is unmissable though, and with engaging staff and a stunning, luxe fit-out you should drop in for a gin sooner rather than later.

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