Silk, Courthouse Hotel Kempinski, London W1

Set inside a former court, Silk tries to build a case for its combination of Asian, Middle Eastern and Italian cuisine but leaves our judge begging for order
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Restaurant reviewing is a lot like doing jury duty over dinner; a public service designed to uphold standards and improve our common lot. Even so, I've never eaten in a courtroom before. What is now the fine-dining restaurant of the new Courthouse Hotel Kempinski was once the Number One Court of Great Marlborough Street Magistrates' Courts, which has played host to some of London's most celebrated heroes and villains in its time. Even now, Giles Coren of the Times sits on the other side of the room.

Restaurant reviewing is a lot like doing jury duty over dinner; a public service designed to uphold standards and improve our common lot. Even so, I've never eaten in a courtroom before. What is now the fine-dining restaurant of the new Courthouse Hotel Kempinski was once the Number One Court of Great Marlborough Street Magistrates' Courts, which has played host to some of London's most celebrated heroes and villains in its time. Even now, Giles Coren of the Times sits on the other side of the room.

With its oak-panelled walls, judge's bench, dock and witness stand, it feels for all the world like an off-beat theme restaurant: Planet Legal perhaps, or the Hard Labour Café. Actually, it is a theme restaurant, but the theme, for some obscure reason, is based on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that connected China with the Mediterranean. Hence the odd presence of gold Buddhas seemingly pasted against the oak walls.

Without any further evidence, it all looks like a desperate attempt by the think-tank boys to find a concept, any concept. What they did find, however, was a chef interesting enough to pull the critics. While at Lola's in Islington, Elisha Carter melted the hearts of some of Britain's toughest restaurant reviewers, who all predicted big things for him. Not having had the pleasure myself, it's hard to believe that the same person has just sent out an oily, overcooked, fall-apart vegetable samosa and coarse yoghurt dip as an appetiser.

A second appetiser Parmesan brûlé is not quite as interesting as the dramatic fly-away nun's hat of a white bowl in which it is served. Nor is it a brûlé, meaning "burnt", but more of a dull, granular savoury panna cotta. Then, oh joy, something real to eat comes along; a basket of breads that are all house-made, freshly sliced and full of character and substance.

The menu divides itself, rather grandiosely, between Asian, Middle Eastern and Italian. Most chefs find it hard enough to master one cuisine, let alone get a handle on three. Carter, it turns out, hasn't really tried to get a handle on any of them. I order across the board, although you can do a tasting menu from any one of the three cuisines on offer. From Asia, supposedly, comes a nicely executed round of ham-bound terrine, comprising mini-rounds of foie gras, chopped Peking duck and spicy sausage (£13.75). An accompanying mooli and mustard salad is, in essence, a born-again celeriac rémoulade. Another Asian starter of sashimi of scallops (£12) could as easily be a ceviche or carpaccio as a sashimi, while an accompanying seared scallop on miso-infused purée is rather curiously served under an upturned Martini glass. As scallop dishes go, this one doesn't go any further than the last dozen I've had.

So let's go Italian, instead. A plug of roast hake topped with a salty pecorino and prosciutto crust with a caper and raisin dressing (£21) is undermined by viciously pickled cocktail onions. Also, there are several frog's leg lollipops, and deep-fried cromesquis (little battered cubes that hail from a French/Russian past). So, not Italian, then. The cromesqui might work when filled with creamy, oozing foie gras, as memorably achieved by Burgundian chef Marc Meneau, but it does not work filled with a thin purée of parsley and what look like baby teeth but are, in fact, bits of frog. Sorry, but it's just not very nice.

OK, how about the Middle East? A dish of sea bass served on a slab of braised veal breast is like a fish riding a cow into town. Served with a hillock of large Israeli couscous flecked with very small mussels (£24), it is like three different dishes served on the same plate. Four, if you count the dry, fried ravioli of okra that sits on top of the fish. It all feels uncoordinated, unconnected and incompatible. But this is not a cheap restaurant, and the wine list has serious mark-ups, with very little - if anything - under £27. I go for a good, complex and spicy Italian "Moliss" Barbera d'Asti from Pavia & Figli (£28) that covers the disparate elements as well as it can.

Desserts show a good level of technique, but are still made to suffer the indignity of the concept. An allegedly Middle Eastern chocolate fondant is pepped up with peanuts (£10) but made watery with a mandarin sorbet; and an "Italian" dish of carefully constructed little building blocks of raspberry jelly, poached pear and lasagne sheets (£10) tastes of nothing much at all.

I'm not sure where any of this is supposed to be coming from, to be honest. The floor staff are well-meaning and well-mannered, but they don't seem any more convinced by the cooking than I am. There is nothing real about this food, which seems to be mostly 1990s French, bent to fit a few token ethnic flourishes. I haven't enjoyed a single flavour tonight because there have been no single flavours, nor any strong ideas, just a jet-lagged pastiche from too many stopovers.

If I gave the chef the benefit of the doubt, I would suggest his talent and skill has been dissipated and diluted by a silly overall concept. But forcing such tortuous ideas on to such a beautiful old courtroom is incongruous. If not downright criminal.

12 Silk Courthouse Hotel Kempinski, 19-21 Great Marlborough Street, London W1, tel: 020 7297 5555. Dinner served Tues-Sat. Around £150 for dinner for two including drinks 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: More restaurants with material values

Velvet 2 Canal Street, Manchester, tel: 0161 236 9003 In the middle of Manchester's lively gay district, this very cool basement bar is riddled with talking points. The stairs double as an aquarium, while in the loos TV sets are helpfully tuned to the QVC shopping channel. Blue Margaritas and Rude Cosmopolitans are the big orders or, if you're eating, it's the rack and black (rack of lamb with black pudding) and sea bass with noodles.

Cottons 55 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1, tel: 020 7485 8388 One of London's few Caribbean restaurants, Cottons features an always-thriving bar scene, plus three different dining areas, each one themed on a different Caribbean island. Expect big servings and big flavours in dishes such as Cottons' famous curried goat, red snapper wrapped in banana leaf and mixed jerk grill with rice, peas and plantain.

The Tweed Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, St Boswells, Melrose, Scottish Borders, tel: 01835 822 261 This striking baronial mansion lurks deep in the heart of the picturesque Scottish Borders, overlooking the Tweed - the river, that is, not the fabric. Chef René Gaté brings French flair to local Scottish produce with his hand-dived Scottish scallops with belly pork and baby onions, and supreme of guinea fowl with chestnut mousseline.

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

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