Restaurant review: The American way

25 Oct 2006 by Tom Otley


18 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 7DD, tel +44 (0)20 7240 4222, christophersgrill.com

It’s lazy to talk of American cuisine when that nation has as many different styles of cooking as nationalities making up its population, but for the London market, US cooking means steaks, Caesar salads and burgers.

Open since 1991, Christopher’s The American Bar & Grill is named after owner Christopher Gilmour, and has views from its first floor restaurant windows across Waterloo Bridge. The restaurant is in a Grade II-listed Victorian building behind One Aldwych Hotel, and has a ground floor bar for drinks with an impressive stone spiral staircase leading up to the restaurant.

Recent refurbishment has not disguised the original features of wooden flooring and stucco interior. It’s a welcoming place without being casual, so is good for suits and business talk, but feels relaxing and without airs. The food consists, as you’d expect, of staple dishes from an imaginary grand steak and lobster house of east-coast America: “Grand Central Station” oyster and bay scallop pan roast (£10.50); several types of steak, lobsters and Caesar salads, as well as “Midwestern” veal meatloaf, roast salsify, mash and truffle jus (£15). The steak was very good indeed; head chef Francis Agyepong has a classic cut of Buccleuch Beef (the prime rib for two, at £22 each, is a signature dish). Desserts include American specialities like pecan pie with maple syrup ice cream and a fantastic baked New York cheesecake. It’s not slimming, but then this sort of food rarely is – that’s why it’s such a favourite with business travellers. There’s something very comforting about (occasionally) eating three days’ worth of calories at one sitting. A private dining room takes up to 40 guests and has its own reception area and bathroom facilities.

PRICE Theatre and brunch menus £14.50 for two courses, £17 for three courses; à la carte starters £5.50-£12.50, steak as main from £16.
OPENING HOURS à la carte Mon-Fri lunch 12-3pm, Mon-Sat dinner 5-11.30pm, Sundays 5-10.30pm. Daily theatre menu 5-7pm, brunch Sat-Sun 11.30am-3.30pm.


The Savoy Hotel, The Strand, Covent Garden, tel +44 (0)20 7420 2392, fairmont.com

In contrast to the traditional steakhouse, Marcus Wareing (responsible for London restaurants Petrus and The Savoy Grill) has an alternative take on American food in this retro-1950s American diner. It’s a small place, seating 40, and feels like a bit of a secret – after several visits I’ve never found it more than half full, perhaps because its location – on the first floor above The Savoy Grill – is hardly one that attracts passing traffic.
The design is intended to invoke a Corvette Stingray with a palette of tomato-red, ivory, and brown and stainless steel and streamlined banquettes – comfortable for even the most well-spread of business diners.
The menu is also more subtle than the run of the mill Americana served up elsewhere in the capital. Under the direction of Marcus Wareing, Josh Emett leads the kitchen and oversees a menu varying from light salads to an optional three-course meal. Menu items include, for starters, nut crusted goats’ cheese salad, roasted beetroot (£9), salad Nicoise, free range egg (£9) and for mains, beef filet burger with pear chutney (£12); char-grilled poussin with garlic mash (£12); or King crab risotto (£15), Having said that, there’s also shepherd’s pie, which made us question the whole American theme.

PRICE Starters from £9; mains from £12; desserts £5.
OPENING HOURS Noon to midnight.


33 Dover Street, Mayfair, W1S 4NF, tel +44 (0)20 7499 3033 automat-london.com

An American brasserie in such a quintessentially British part of London was always going to be an interesting idea, and Automat is an extremely clever place. Created and designed by New York-based architect Carlos Almada, Automat takes the idea of a diner, then serves the sort of food no true American diner ever managed to come up with. The main body of the restaurant is a homage to the dining cars of the 1950s (which in turn were like horse-drawn wagons with their arched wooden roofs). This one even has windows along one side next to the low-level booth seating to complete the illusion, with changing artwork in the corridor alongside the restaurant. The black-and-white tiled mosaic floor leads to the main room of the brasserie, on a raised level overlooking a courtyard garden.

All very stylish, but Automat is glamorous and fashionable mainly because of the people in there – if you are not very rich or very good-looking, you might feel a little out of your depth, although the staff are professional enough to serve you just as politely as the next-door tables of supermodels and multi-millionaires. Dishes include everything from steaks and clam chowder to sea bass in parchment paper, all under chefs Richard Turner and Peter Tempelhoff. Automat is packed for everything except breakfast (that can only be a matter of time). There are plans for another restaurant to go partly underneath it, with access at the back from Berkeley Street, and a nightclub. Watch this space.

PRICE Starters £7-£12; mains £8-£28.
OPENING HOURS Breakfast 7-11am, lunch Mon-Fri 12-3pm, dinner Mon-Sat 6-11pm, brunch Sat-Sun 11am-4pm, brasserie Mon-Fri noon-1am.

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