Terry Durack tangles with the eel from hell at Beauberry House

I can only imagine the list would grow into the hundreds if he ever got his hands on Beauberry House, the part-restaurant, part-function venue that is the latest project from L'Etranger owners Ibi Issolah and Jerome Tauvron, in Dulwich's Belair Park. There are the gates, the garden, the impressive grade-II listed building, the lobby, the bar, the restaurant, the al fresco terrace - so much to worry about and maintain for a smooth, harmonious whole. And as I step out of the car at the door, what do I tread on? A cigarette butt. There are more on the steps.

After a fumbled coat-check, we are led into a deliciously modern room that feels oddly like a nightclub seen by day. The floor is glossy orange resin, the chairs are fluorescent orange flock, the banquettes are zoomy white leather, and the chandelier is a white branch of a light installation glittering with tiny pin-pricks of light.

This is balanced on the other side of the house by a charcoal grey bar with a 2am licence that is dimly dramatic thanks to its mood lighting, stainless-steel bar, red flock chairs and glamorous scarlet chaise longues.

There are just as many modern exclamation marks in the bravely Japanese-French menu put together by executive chef Tauvron and chef Kunal Baynath. Dishes such as spicy octopus salad with yuzu dressing; roast black cod with black bean sauce; and seared scallops, leeks and tomatoes with lemongrass cappuccino are intriguing.

But the journey from menu to table can be a rocky one, no matter how smooth your resin floor. Nori-wrapped tuna spring rolls (£9.50) are done in the modern Jean-Georges Vongerichten style, but are served at blood temperature, the tuna itself being unattractively dark instead of pink and glistening. Or perhaps the table is a long way from the kitchen, as a lightly spicy, creamy spider crab soup with red curry coconut milk (£6.50), cutely presented in a crab shell on a tear-drop plate, is barely warm.

Head sommelier Jean-Sebastien Azais has put together a vast and impressive global-spanning wine list, but in his absence, nobody seems to know much about it. When I order a rarely exported Luxembourg Pinot Noir out of curiosity, the waiter looks blank and asks me for its code number. After 20 minutes, a second waiter comes to explain that it could not be found. I fear they have lost the first waiter, too, but he finally emerges with my second choice - again out of curiosity - a fruity Riserva 2001 pinot noir (£34) from the award-winning St Michael-Eppan vineyard in the South Tyrol.

And so the night drags on. The staff have the disconnected air of catering casuals. They are probably perfectly adept at serving canapés and drinks for 200. It's just the single plates they can't bring to the table with any confidence. And God I hate it when you are ignored for so long you have to pick up your own bottle of wine, only to be pounced upon by a waiter flapping like a headless chook. Either do your job, or bugger off and let me do it.

A structured main course of a plug of rare, round Charolais beef (£19.50) served with a beaker of sancho pepper sauce and a kindling pile of fat, soft "sumo" chips is fair but dull. And I won't say much about the eel dish if you don't mind. I love eel, and tried to reward the chef for putting together "eel roasted with sake, steamed with konbu and glazed with foie gras" (£15.50). But it is such a major disaster area of floppy bits of liver on top of a very large sheath of claggy eel skin lined with plugs of fat, sitting on a thick fillet of soft-fleshed eel on a messy stir-fry of baby sweetcorn and mushrooms in a very sweet sauce, I honestly lose my appetite.

For dessert, pain perdu with tilleul (lime flower) ice cream (£6.50) is a generous serving of stodgy French toast, with colourful, sweet berries and a smooth, but fast-melting, ice cream.

What is the matter with this place? It's all very well setting up a highly detailed designer space in a marvellous heritage building, but there are cigarette butts strewn around the front door. It's a great cellar, but nobody can find the wine that I want. The menu grabs the eye, but turns out to be amateurish fusion food. And at no time has there been any sparkle, sizzle or sense of spontaneity on any plate or face.

Beauberry House feels like an empty, beautiful, soulless shell, set up by people who obviously love planning, setting up and creating restaurants. What it needs now is someone who loves running them.


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

Beauberry House, Gallery Road, Dulwich Village, London SE21, tel: 020 8299 9788

Lunch served daily; dinner served Monday to Saturday. Around £120 for two including wine and service

Second helpings: More restaurants in houses

Midsummer House, Midsummer Common, Cambridge, tel: 01223 369 299

For fine dining with all the trimmings, it's hard to go past this popular Michelin-starred restaurant on the banks of the Cam. Chef Daniel Clifford turns out bold and beautiful dishes such as papillote of pigeon and Savoy cabbage, and fennel-roasted John Dory with parsley risotto.

Lindsay House 21 Romilly Street, London W1, tel: 020 7439 0450

In many ways, Richard Corrigan, the fast-talking, wise-cracking, super-sized Irish-born chef, is larger than life. The same can be said for his flavours, in beautifully crafted dishes such as roasted scallops and spiced chickpeas, and loin of rabbit stuffed with black pudding.

White Moss House, Rydal Water, Grasmere, Cumbria, tel: 01539 435 295

This charming Lake District hotel was once owned by the poet William Wordsworth. Today it is as well known for chef Peter Dixon's legendary five-course dinner, including the likes of celeriac and chive soup, stuffed organic old-breed pork, and Eton mess.