Refuel, The Soho Hotel, London W1

It should be the perfect pit stop. But something - the prices, the food, the noise - is not right with Refuel, the restaurant in London's new and chic Soho Hotel
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For £235, you can call the most sought-after new address in Soho your own - if only for one night. At the Soho Hotel, you get to wallow around in the kind of easy, savvy chic that feels more like SoHo, New York, than Soho, London. You get a stylish, contemporary room designed by Kit Kemp of Firmdale Hotels (which also owns the Charlotte Street and Covent Garden hotels). The room is complete with flatscreen LCD TV, a DVD/CD player and an oak and granite bathroom. Your new home also boasts two private cinemas, a fully equipped gym, two beauty treatment rooms, a grand drawing-room and a library (with real books).

For £235, you can call the most sought-after new address in Soho your own - if only for one night. At the Soho Hotel, you get to wallow around in the kind of easy, savvy chic that feels more like SoHo, New York, than Soho, London. You get a stylish, contemporary room designed by Kit Kemp of Firmdale Hotels (which also owns the Charlotte Street and Covent Garden hotels). The room is complete with flatscreen LCD TV, a DVD/CD player and an oak and granite bathroom. Your new home also boasts two private cinemas, a fully equipped gym, two beauty treatment rooms, a grand drawing-room and a library (with real books).

What's more, you get to rub shoulders with urbane, sophisticated switched-on people just like yourself who can afford to pay £235 or more a night for a hotel room. In other words, you pretty much get what you pay for.

To eat at the Soho Hotel, in a restaurant with the not-quite-right name of Refuel, can cost you nearly as much as staying there. Starters hover around £10, while mains can soar effortlessly past the £20 mark, with £23.50 for truffle risotto, £24 for poached beef fillet and £26 for char-grilled veal cutlet. To put that in context, think Nobu, Pied-à-Terre or Locanda Locatelli.

For the price, you get entrée to a lively space split between a loudly popular long zinc-countered bar and a moodily lit dining-room, with a gleaming stainless- steel kitchen to the rear. Again, New York comes to mind - in particular, Keith McNally's Balthazar and Pastis. It is incredibly loud, there being no sound buffer between the boho-luxe life in the bar - shaven-headed boys, mini-skirted girls, chemically preserved older men in black cashmere with St Tropez blondes - and the first row of tables in the restaurant.

The menu, devised by former Mirabelle chef Robin Read, is a mixed bag of Japanese, Thai, French and Italian influences, running from tuna "toro" steak with umeboshi-plum dressing to saffron linguine with mussels. Such hell-bent internationalism makes it a hard menu to get a fix on, with some flavour combinations I instinctively find unappealing (carpaccio of Cornish monkfish with charentais melon and white balsamic vinegar, or Thai basil emulsion with a lasagne of butternut squash, fennel and Portobello mushroom). My Goldilocks of a partner gives up trying to find a main course (one is too creamy, another too cheesy, one is too soupy, another is too Dutch, etc) and orders two starters instead.

This may not have been wise. Her daily special of caramelised parsnip soup (£7) is rich, thick and smooth, tickled with cumin seed and sploshed with cream, but it is uncomfortably sweet. Parsnip already being sweet, the extra caramelisation takes it too far.

Her next course is a starter of pork belly (£9), the half-dozen square-inch cubes of twice-cooked pork placed clock-face around a leafy salad of mizuna and rocket leaves scattered with pomegranate seeds and slender enoki mushrooms, like edible cotton buds. Again, the miso dressing is wonkily, tooth-achingly sweet.

I have better luck with quail with red cabbage and watercress salad (£10.50), although I advise the staff not to bother asking if I would be happy for the bird to be medium-rare, when the kitchen is going to cook it right through anyway. The diminutive bird hides in the undergrowth of huge floppy salad in a frisky dressing of soy, sherry vinegar and hazelnut oil along with a fried quail egg (nice touch) and topped with shredded deep-fried leeks ( so over).

The wine list is as boldly priced as the menu, sprinting up to a '99 Penfold's Grange at £300. Temata Woodthorpe Chardonnay (£8 a glass) from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand is thin and one-dimensional but a bottle of '02 Lemelson Six Vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon (£32) is the sort of light, fresh, fruity red that can work with anything. This is just as well.

A main course of poached skate and shellfish with parsley cream (£19.50) comes with more cream than parsley. The moist fish flakes away in easy, fleshy chunks; a razor clam is plump and meaty; an Irish rock oyster and a handful of cockles all fresh and juicy. It seems a shame to drown them in a thin, creamy sauce.

Goldilocks takes one look at the dessert list (one is too deep-fried, another too chocolatey, etc) and rushes into the arms of the cheese platter. But she misses out there, too, with a boring rendition of three tried-and-trues on a slate with sliced apple and honey - for nine quid.

Far better is a black-fig tart (at £8, mind you), a perfect tile of fine, flaky puff bearing regimented slices of fig and a snowball of mascarpone and vanilla ice-cream. Simple and seasonal, it is, ironically, far less sweet than the parsnip soup and pork belly salad.

The hotel has a strong sense of style and harmony. The restaurant does not. The food seems uneven and over-priced, the flavours mostly skewed, the staff contradictory, and the noise levels too high. While the hotel has the potential to be the heart of a new Soho, I fear the restaurant will not live up to being the heart of a new hotel.

12 Refuel The Soho Hotel, 4 Richmond Mews, London W1, tel: 020 7559 3007. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Around £120 for dinner for two including wine and service

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

Second helpings: Other boutique hotel restaurants

Hotel Tresanton Lower Castle Road, St Mawes, Cornwall, tel: 01326 270 055 Holidaymakers who flocked to this popular Cornwall hotel 50 years ago may not recognise it following owner Olga Polizzi's redesign five years ago. It's a joy to sit in the dining-room with views of the Fal Estuary and of Paul Wadham's bright mod-Med-influenced food, such as John Dory with saffron gnocchi and grilled artichoke salad.

The Bonham 35 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 623 9319 Victorian grace meets contemporary style in this elegantly appointed boutique townhouse hotel. Old meets new in the dining-room too, as chef Michel Bouyer combines classical French training, with modern thinking and Scottish produce. The results can be a pave of salmon with hazelnut and lemon butter, or langoustine and scallop brochette with truffle risotto.

Aurora Great Eastern Hotel, 40 Liverpool Street, London EC2, tel: 020 7618 7000 This smart City hotel bears the stamp of London's venerable trend-setter, Sir Terence Conran. Of the hotel's three bars and four restaurants, the most dramatic is Aurora, with its stained-glass dome and spacious, gracious feel. Mainly modern- European food includes roast tranche of cod with courgettes, and pastilla of five-spiced duck confit.

E-mail Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

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