Steven Murphy’s dining boltholes

The CEO of Christie’s International, the world’s largest auction house, oversaw a 16 per cent increase in sales last year to a record £4.5bn – 30 per cent of which was from new buyers

Steven Murphy at Sally Clarke's restaurant on Kensington Church Street, London
Steven Murphy at Sally Clarke's restaurant on Kensington Church Street, London | Image: Sebastian Boettcher

William Blake said: “Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep at night”. It’s a philosophy I have adopted and I don’t mix business with breakfast. At Christie’s, where doing business over meals is an ingrained part of the culture, we have a tradition of formal lunches held at our offices around the globe, and these meals are key in building strong, long-term relationships in the competitive art world. But I find quick lunches are also a great tool for moving a deal forward. In London, I’ll take art dealers for an understated yet elegant meal at The Wolseley, or to Balthazar, which has a similar buzz and fabulous Dover sole meunière. In New York, I opt for The Sea Grill near our Rockefeller Center offices, which serves the city’s best crab cakes in under an hour.

Dinners, however, are my preferred time for entertaining. For one-on-one meals, I like quiet, intimate places such as Sally Clarke’s. But I host a lot of group dinners too – often at 5 Hertford Street, where the convivial atmosphere puts everyone at ease – and convening interesting people with a shared passion is one of the best parts of my job. There is an art to giving a good dinner party – gathering guests for business purposes alone will always backfire – and as the best art collections span genres and periods, the best working dinner should include a variety of characters.

A trick I learnt during my publishing days [as a division president of Simon & Schuster and CEO of Rodale] is to announce a topic for discussion as the entrée is served. One recent dinner was themed around the Chinese expansion into the art market, and I brought together a Shanghai gallerist, two senior Christie’s experts, an artist and several collectors. The fascinating conversation made for a memorable evening. At a dinner at our New York offices, Thomas Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, regaled the group with tales about his first year in this major role, and the clients appreciated his candour and art-world insights. This builds trust and – hopefully – friendship, as we’re not talking shop as much as sharing stories.

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During busy sales weeks, my client entertaining takes on a very different tone. In Hong Kong I find quick sushi lunches at Kaetsu at the Grand Hyatt are ideal. I have a regular table and the staff knows which dishes I like, which simplifies things. In Beijing, Duck de Chine serves speedy and excellent crispy Peking duck in a room that feels like a French brasserie.

On the whole, I prefer restaurants with local colour, like Yong Foo Elite in Shanghai’s French Concession. Set in a colonial villa that was once home to the British consulate, it overlooks beautiful gardens and serves small sharing plates of braised king prawns and shredded beef.

In Lower Manhattan, that might be the hard-to-book Minetta Tavern, where the steak is spot-on and the atmosphere evokes 1950s America. At Le Voltaire in Paris, the huge pots of cornichons and mountains of pommes frites put everyone in a good mood, and I am always well looked after, which allows me to focus on the discussion – or negotiations – at hand.

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Increasingly I take western clients to India, where one of my favourite places to entertain is Trishna, an incredible fish restaurant in Mumbai. I was taken there by two clients and have since introduced many others to its signature butter and garlic crab. The whole experience is very authentic. We are living in uncertain times and everything – including the surge of interest in the art market – is about the need for authentic experiences. I hope that while we’re cultivating client relationships we put on meals that provide just that.

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