Christopher’s originally arrived in 1991 but was given a major refurbishment in 2013 by London-based agency De Matos Ryan. It occupies a grand, 19th-century Grand II Listed building that was once a casino and later a papier mache factory. When it opened, the restaurant was one of the first in London to focus on American food. For the last seven years it has been owned by Ambar Paul, director of engineering firm the Caparo Group, and his daughter Anika Paul, who is the restaurant’s director.
WHERE IS IT?
Just around the corner from Covent Garden’s main piazza, and opposite the Lyceum Theatre. It is a short walk from Temple Tube station, Somerset House, the Savoy hotel and Waterloo Bridge.
The building is easy to spot, located on the corner with steps leading up to a grand entrance. In the foyer, by a sweeping spiral staircase dotted with tea light candles, staff welcome you at a reservations desk. I had a drink in the bar first (see below) before heading upstairs for dinner in the elegant first-floor dining room. Through the windows are views of Waterloo Bridge.
Although it was light outside until almost 9pm, it still felt atmospheric. Unlike many new restaurants, this one has opted for a more traditional look with white tablecloths as opposed to bare wood, which added a regal feel to the setting, with its pretty cornicing, marble fireplace and parquet floor. Brightened by splashes of Veuve Clicquot yellow, gold uplighting and solid furniture, it’s a huge improvement on the rather dull grey and white of before.
For private events, there is the Club Room on the lower ground floor with its own bar, wifi and audio-visual facilities. It can accommodate 80 people standing or 40 seated, and menus can be designed according to your preferences.
As you would expect from an American influenced menu, there is lots of choice, so much, in fact that I asked the waiter to advise on the most popular dishes. He said that the Maryland crab cakes, seared Orkney scallops and the steaks were “must tries”, so between us we ordered these up, as well as the blackened salmon with jambalaya risotto and cress salad (£19), and some sweet potato fries.
The £14 crab cake (a speciality of the mid-Atlantic state of Maryland), which came with arugula (rocket in British English), red pepper mayo poured over half of it and a spoon full of tomato jam proved a great flavour combination but I found the crab meat to be too bitty. It didn’t have the best consistency as it was so finely shredded.
The trio of scallops arrived on a huge rectangular plate artistically decorated with smears and blobs of parsley root and truffle cream, chorizo and chestnut praline (£16). Again the flavour was good but my companion said they arrived a little cold.
The blackened salmon was much more successful, and went well with a wedge of charred lime and the Cajun-inspired risotto, made with tomatoes, Arborio rice and spice. Points also went to the succulent 10oz £32 Scotch sirloin steak with Bearnaise sauce, which was cooked just right.
Had I not known that Christopher’s was known for serving American food, I would not have described it as doing so. To me it seemed modern European. Other dishes on the menu included Burrata with tomato tartare and aged balsamic (£13); superfood salad with avocado, quinoa, beetroot, lentils, seeds, berries and chargrilled chicken (£14); grilled Norfolk asparagus with a poached egg and shaved Pecorino (£13); rigatoni with chilli basil pesto (£16); and baked halibut with a herb crust (£32).
There are some American stalwarts though, such as the Caesar salad (£10), surf ‘n’ turf USDA prime rib-eye with half a grilled lobster (£45), and Missouri-rubbed rack of lamb. They also do some appealing side dishes (£4-£7) such as Monterey cheddar mash, tobacco onions, Boston baked beans, and mac and cheese (pimped out with option lobster for an extra £15). At the weekend you can “build you own pancake”.
Before dinner, I headed through to the ground-floor Martini bar to have a drink while I waited for my friend. It’s a glamorous looking high-ceilinged space with dark walls, sit-up leather stools, polished art deco-style mirrors, huge rounded windows and a long onyx sharing table. I took a seat at one of the tables on the left-hand side, where a waiter brought me a cocktail menu (snacks are only served on request – there are no complimentary nibbles).
Although there are lots of variations on the martini (lychee rose £12, elderberry £11, Nutella £11, skinny watermelon £11), I went for a classic Vesper, made with gin, vodka and Lillet Blanc shaken over ice (£11). There are numerous other classic cocktails listed, as well as house signatures such as the Dark Knight (Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum, Mandarine Napoleon, kumquats, mint and sweet vermouth).
With our meal, we ordered a £41 bottle of 2014 Chablis, which was perfectly drinkable. The wine menu is divided into sections for the Americas, Europe and Rest of World. The house champagne is Laurent-Perrier (£13 a glass), while house wine starts from £6 a glass for a Spanish white, and £7 for a red (again Spanish). I think the restaurant probably should have stuck to the American theme and gone all out with Californian Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Pinot Noir, of which it has a respectable selection (up to £270 a bottle).
The service was a little slow at times but polite and professional.
This is a solid choice for business people working in the area, either for a power lunch or supper with acquaintances. The setting is suitably grand, they do a good martini and there is something on the menu to please everyone. The food isn’t the best you’ll get in London, though, and it’s not cheap; plus if you are looking for “authentic American” fare, you might be disappointed.
Lunch 12pm to 3pm Monday-Friday; dinner 5pm to 11.30pm (10.30pm on Sunday); pre and post theatre: 5pm-6.15pm and 10pm-11.30pm; brunch 11.30am-3.30pm (Saturday and Sunday); martini bar 11.30am-11.30pm.
PRICES Starters £10-£16, mains £14-£58, dessert £7-£9. Two-course set menu £22, three-course £26.
CONTACT Christopher’s, 18 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, London; tel +44 (0)20 7240 4222; christophersgrill.com