They say the best things come in small packages – but nobody said anything about the enormous bill

There should probably be a rule preventing critics from reviewing restaurants on their birthdays. After the age of 35, no one enjoys celebrating these occasions. It's just a grim reminder that you're one step nearer to the grave. In my own case, the way in which this anxiety expresses itself is to find fault with everything. My wife could give me a suitcase stuffed with £50 notes and my only response would be to examine the fastenings and say, "Where did you get this? Shepherd's Bush Market?"

Because of this ill humour, I never plan to celebrate my birthday – which is why my wife and I are available when another couple call at the last minute and ask if we'd like to go to Suka, the Malaysian restaurant in the Sanderson Hotel.

"Suka?" I say. "Are you mad? That's one of the most expensive places in London."

But it turns out the woman has done some work for the owner and has been offered a freebie. Given the prices at Suka, it's as though I really have been given a suitcase full of money after all.

We make the mistake of approaching the Sanderson's main doors, only to be directed to a separate entrance. When Suka opened two-and-a-half years ago, it didn't have its own entrance and nearly every reviewer complained about having to fight their way through a throng of people at the bar. They used phrases such as "not properly thought out" and "poorly designed", but what they really objected to was having to manoeuvre their way past such exquisite specimens of humanity. The bar of the Sanderson is like a singles' scene for X Factor contestants, and most restaurant critics, God bless 'em, would be more at home in the Star Wars cantina on the planet Tatooine.

Because it's my birthday I demand the right to order for the table, which gives me a good opportunity to road-test the menu. What makes this particularly pleasurable is that I don't think the waitress has been informed we are guests of the restaurant. She keeps urging me to order more, and unless she's bending over backwards to make us feel welcome, I suspect she's just up to the usual tricks.

I ask for a selection of starters, including butter prawns, and am immediately told one won't be enough.

"What, in conjunction with all the other dishes I'm ordering?"

"You only get three prawns per serving."

I check the price: £15. Gordon Bennett!

"So that's £5 per prawn?"

"That's right, Sir."

"How many would you suggest?"

"At least three."

"OK, you've twisted my arm. Bring me £45 worth of prawns."

Once she's discovered what an easy mark I am, she goes to town, urging me to order three ribeye skewers of beef (£15), three portions of Welsh salt-marsh lamb (£16) and three portions of Suka sliced steak (£19). In fairness to her, Suka is one of those restaurants with a "dining concept" and the "concept" in this case is that all the portions are quite small, in spite of the over-sized prices. It's essentially Malaysian tapas (for billionaires).

The butter prawns are one of the best things on the menu, so I'm grateful for the waitress's advice. Other highlights included the tofu claypot (£14), the black iron-grilled langoustines (£18) and the crispy chicken salad – an absurdly reasonable £8. Less good are the crispy pork belly with black vinegar sauce (£14), the mamak barbecue chicken (£13) and the beef rendang (£13).

By the end of our meal, such a mountain of food has been placed in front of me that I feel like Mr Creosote. The wafer-thin mint turns out to be the slice of Malaysian rice cake with a single candle in it, but since it's a "birthday treat", it would be churlish to complain. I don't think the waitress was intending to charge me for that – even before she realises she's not going to be able to charge me for anything.

As we leave, there is a queue of beautiful people snaking round the block, all rehearsing the speeches they'll need to make to get in. I linger in the shadows, working out whether they're young enough to be my grandchildren (answer: yes).

I'm too old ever to return to Suka, but it isn't a bad way to celebrate my birthday. If I'd been paying, on the other hand, I think I'd have leapt under a bus.

13/20

Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets

Suka at the Sanderson, 50 Berners Street, London W1, tel: 020 7300 1444. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. About £95 a head, including wine

Second helpings: More hotel hotspots

Suka at the Sanderson, 50 Berners Street, London W1, tel: 020 7300 1444. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. About £95 a head, including wine

One-O-One

Sheraton Park Tower, 101 Knightsbridge, London SW1, tel: 020 7290 7101

Exquisite seafood – available in novel tapas-style or more conventionally – has established this as the country's best fish restaurant

Simon Radley

The Chester Grosvenor, Eastgate, Chester, tel: 01244 324 024

Putting the name of the long-standing chef over the door has contributed to an extraordinary transformation of this grand city-centre hotel dining-room

Hambleton Hall

Hambleton, Oakham, Rutland, tel:01572 756 991

Creative cooking as good as any in the capital; Tim Hart's stunningly located country-house hotel is one of England's most notable culinary destinations

Comments