Aurora, in the Great Eastern Hotel at London's Liverpool Street, offers railway dining a world away from burgers and chips

If you have located an up-market restaurant in a Victorian railway hotel, one of those grand edifices which rise up at the end of mainline routes like a brick-built terminal moraine, then I suppose a certain amount of theming is forgivable.

If you have located an up-market restaurant in a Victorian railway hotel, one of those grand edifices which rise up at the end of mainline routes like a brick-built terminal moraine, then I suppose a certain amount of theming is forgivable.

Behind the reception desk at Aurora, for example, a new Conran restaurant at the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street, there are display cases full of tastefully spotlit model trains, which make the railway connection perfectly well without getting too twee about it.

But I did wonder whether things had got out of hand when we arrived to be told that the kitchen was "running a bit behind". No explanation was offered for the delay. Leaves on the overhead grill? A passenger incident involving the deep-fat fryer? Instead we were apologetically diverted to a waiting-room - the hotel's Terminus Bar, which contained more pin-striped cloth than a Savile Row stock-room and was doing a brisk business serving bistro classics to merchant bankers and City Road loft-dwellers.

Terminus is clearly the economy section of the operation - and you can dimly glimpse first class through the opaque windows behind its bar. Aurora occupies a much grander salon, complete with stained-glass rotunda in the middle of the ceiling, which is high enough to leave you feeling a little surplus to requirements. No attempt has been made to match the commercial pomp of the original décor - which includes some Alma-Tademesque murals of Hellenic maidens wafting across the greensward. Instead, Conran has gone for a decorous form of Sixties revival, with plywood-shingle light fittings and clean, geometrical place- settings. The result is fine at eye-level but doesn't entirely take the chill off the room or the faint air of echoing vacancy.

That may not matter much, of course, since there isn't a lot of competition east of Smithfield. Aurora is one of those restaurants in which you find tables full of suited men without women, testing their strength against the company expense account and pretty much indifferent to interior décor. Somehow it seems unlikely that they'd opt for Chubbies Sandwich Bar, just across the street, whatever miscalculations have been made about ambience. Besides, Craig Thomas's menu promises them some suitably muscular flavours - a lot of roasting, a generous scatter of offal and fungi, and plenty of good red meat.

It doesn't entirely deliver on that promise. We began with a caramelised foie gras, served with roasted fennel and an aniseed and lime caramel: a dish which badly needed some salt to balance all that sweetness. It was also served with the dubious enhancement of paper-thin blades of dried aubergine. I think it was Gordon Ramsay who really kicked off this fashion for desiccation, balancing the gastronomic equivalent of communion wafers on top of several of his trademark dishes, but though it works quite well with some foods, aubergine - faintly woody to begin with - isn't one of them. It was a bit like nibbling at the flyleaf of a second-hand book.

The tian of Cornish crab wasn't much more successful. For me, crab is one of those foods that loiters on the intriguing border between the delicious and the disgusting. Underneath the fine sweetness of the white meat there really should be a whiff of unpumped trawler bilges somewhere, but this was far too well-behaved to deliver a satisfying maritime tang. The soft-shell crab was given a substitute carapace of tempura batter which helped out a little, but the lemon-grass velouté was also too subtly flavoured to lend a hand. I had the maddening experience - in the middle of eating it - of getting a single forkful that really delivered in terms of flavour, but I couldn't successfully put together another one before the plate was empty.

Main courses were more straightforward and more successful. My wife's saddle of venison served with candied parsnips and a celeriac purée loose enough to serve as a sauce for the well-cooked meat. I think my roast Anjou pigeon must have walked over from France, because while the breast was tender and delicious, the thighs would have been better off contributing a bit more depth of flavour to the Madeira jus. This was served with an endive tarte Tatin, a really successful combination of buttery sweetness and aspirin bitterness which beautifully set off the livery density of the meat. Unfortunately it was also accompanied by the worst miscalculation of the evening - Kromesky foie gras. A spherical fritter which brought to mind a defective mini-Kiev - the gras having turned into yellow oil and the foie having shrivelled into something that looked as if it should be on its way to a pathology lab.

Desserts confirmed the overall impression that flavour needs to be beefed up a notch and complexity taken down a step, at least until the kitchen is running on time. The hot fondant of bitter chocolate with pistachio ice-cream was a classic combination nicely executed - a delicious see-saw between hot and cold, robust and delicate. The liquorice and armagnac parfait, on the other hand, was a culinary pile-up, the fragrant mousse rear-ended by chocolate, caramelised banana and sauce Suzette.

The one unequivocal hit of the evening, though, was a kind of oriental brandy-snap served with the petits fours - a caramel wafer boosted with five-spice powder and studded with sesame and fennel seeds. We worked our way through far more than our fair share of these - the waitress's covert compensation, I think, for the fact that the kitchen had several times ground to a halt between stations. They, and the friendly, unpretentious service, left a sweet taste in the mouth which the meal as a whole - £141.41 with four individual glasses of wine from an interesting list of sommelier's recommendations - probably would not have done.

Aurora, Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7QN (020 7618 7000). Lunch 12noon-3pm, dinner 6.45pm-10.45pm (last booking). All cards except Diners. Wheelchair access

Note: Jonathan Wright, Aurora's executive chef, has just resigned

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