Christopher's, 18 Wellington Street London WC2

 

How many restaurants which survive for more than 10 years are actually any good? In the restless churn of the London food scene, the answer is arguably: not very many. Chefs move on, managers are poached, the owner loses interest and that exciting new concept grows as stale as last week's leftovers. Inevitably, the sizzle subsides and the quality drops. At which point, it's only a matter of time before the nice chap from Cote, or Jamie's Italian, or Bill's comes knocking to ask about the lease.

For a restaurant to survive in a prime location for a decade or two, it must be doing something right. Or at least doing something OK-ish with lots of charm and a happy way with its regulars. Christopher's is one such – a Theatreland fixture which by virtue of hanging on in for 22 years, now counts as one of London's grand old-stagers. Founded by Tory scion, Christopher Gilmour, and splendidly housed in a handsome Covent Garden mansion, Christopher's specialised in American-style dining – lobsters, burgers, steak and the like – at a time when that kind of fare was the exception in London rather than the rule.

For a while, Christopher's sizzled. Popular with media types who couldn't get into the Groucho Club and the groovier breed of legal and City bloke, it was a place to go for relaxed food in a smart atmosphere. Pop posh, rather than posh pop, to borrow a useful coinage from Peter York, another media-friendly old-stager.

In 2010, Christopher's was acquired by another political scion, Ambar Paul, son of steel magnate and Labour peer Lord Swraj Paul. At the time the new owner captured the madcap romance of the restaurant business by announcing "I am considering a number of investment/roll-out options". Way to create a sizzle! Maybe Paul was subsequently seduced by the building's heady history – it has been both a brothel and London's earliest licensed casino – but instead of rolling out, he has splashed out.

A no-expense-spared refurbishment has seen Christopher's reborn. A sexy, grown-up cocktail bar on the ground floor looks beguiling. The swanky reception area and curving staircase raise expectations further. And then you get to the first-floor restaurant, two connecting rooms whose designer has apparently been given the brief: strip this space of any character or atmosphere, and make it feel like the breakfast room of an international luxury hotel.

Perhaps it's the sheer scale of the room, with its towering corniced ceiling and tall windows looking out across Waterloo Bridge, but it feels like a dead space, decorated in muted, heritage grey and a splash of mustard velvet – Eurostar colours, according to my lunch guest, Alexei Sayle.

It also felt notably under-populated, given that this was only a week or so after a splashy relaunch. Even so, it took two attempts to get someone over to take our order – service, too, seems to be based on the Eurostar model, with constant announcements, enquiries and interruptions, but without the efficiency.

So what about the food? Has Christopher's upped its game to respond to the steak and burger-peddling newbies parking their tanks on its lawn? Well, in short, no. The American classics we tried were mediocre – a £32 surf'n'turf combo of under-seasoned burger and overcooked lobster; a tender but more or less tasteless New York strip steak; forgettable fries, tobacco onions with a weird peppery aftertaste.

An otherwise well-made crab and lobster salad was ruined by bad preparation, every mouthful offering a crunch of shell or cartilage. It was the only starter I've ever ordered that required its own spittoon. Malfatti, airy, gnocchi-like pillows of kale and buffalo ricotta, showed that the kitchen is capable of delicacy. And the chocolate, peanut butter and jelly sandwich with banana ice-cream we shared for dessert (absolutely gorgeous, if you like a huge slab of carbs drowned in glossy chocolate sauce) showed it's also capable of utter indulgent wrongness. But nothing was outstanding.

Our fellow lunchers seemed to be mainly loyal regulars – some suity men and an older couple having too much fun to be married to each other – apart from one very glamorous party who looked like Indian royalty; friends, we gathered, of the owners.

Maybe the room will eventually come to life, under the direction of Ambar Paul's daughter Anika, who worked the room, winningly introducing herself to each table in turn. Maybe the fact that Covent Garden is having a gastronomic moment will sweep Christopher's back into fashion. But on the evidence of our lunch, I wouldn't stake a 10-year business plan on it.

Food ***
Ambience **
Service **

Christopher's, 18 Wellington Street London WC2 (020-7240 4222)

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
people
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Life and Style
The racy marketing to entice consumers to buy Fairlife, which launches in the US next month
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital