Restaurants: Style over sustenance

Tracey MacLeod Eating is only part of the experience at London's myhotel. Just as well, because the best bits don't come on a plate. Photographs by Morley von Sternberg

In the mid-Eighties, travellers began returning from New York with wide-eyed tales about that city's new wave of super-stylish hotels - places like the Paramount and Royalton, whose doors were guarded by walkie-talkied male models and whose bathrooms had apparently been designed by sadistic minimalists. Here in Britain, a night in a hotel has traditionally been an experience to be endured rather than enjoyed. We may furnish our homes according to the gospel of Conran, but we're condemned to stay in places that look like our parents' spare bedroom: all fussiness, chintz and supernumerary cushions.

Recently though, the British hotel scene has enjoyed a design-led resurgence, with the growth of stylish hotel groups like Malmaison, and the launch in London of the Metropolitan, One Aldwych and various smaller boutique establishments. The latest is myhotel and, for fun-seeking visitors, it has a wonderful location - just off Tottenham Court Road, on the border between Bloomsbury, Soho and Fitzrovia, or North Soho, as we're now being encouraged to think of it.

East meets West is the big idea behind myhotel (the use of lower-case lettering, in the tradition of ee cummings and kd lang, is another, far sillier, brainwave). Converted from the old Bedford Corner Hotel, it's been designed for owner Andrew Thrasyvoulou by Terence Conran's CD Partnership. The refit has been carried out strictly in accordance with feng shui principles, and the hotel promises to offer its guests Oriental discretion and service combined with Western efficiency and technology.

There was certainly efficiency, to an almost Moonie-like degree, in the way me and my companion Helen were greeted as we alighted from our taxi in front of the hotel's sleek glass entrance. A uniformed woman came flying at us, grinning wildly and saying, "Have you come to check into my hotel?" At first we took her to be the owner, and were marvelling at this personal touch, until we realised she meant "myhotel", rather than her hotel.

We found Sharon beached on a low-slung sofa in the corner of the bar, looking decidedly nervous. "I was nannied in here by about four people," she squeaked. Still, the hotel had just opened, and we could see why the staff were so excited. The bar is state-of-the-art chic, in a restrained, Conran-ish way. Chairs and ottomans are covered in strokeable leather and expensive, retro fabrics, books and CDs on the shelves lend a welcoming townhouse feel, and there's also the mandatory designer fish tank, like a huge flat-screen TV permanently tuned to the Discovery channel. The only other noticeable feng shui touch was a casually placed copy of Feng Shui for Modern Living magazine, though the Bonio-shaped zinc bar apparently owes its curvy lines to the ancient discipline.

The East meets West idea extends to the restaurant, which is called mychi, in tribute to the Oriental concept of "chi" or positive energy. There are echoes of both an American diner and a Japanese noodle bar in its canteen-style tables, glowing woods, and low-backed booth seating. True to Conran design tradition, it boasts a visible pantry line, with chefs bustling around in full view of the clientele; Gordon Ramsay-like outbursts are presumably stifled for the sake of preserving good karma.

The short menu is a primer of contemporary Pacific Rim style, accessorised with Middle Eastern touches. Some of the dishes are so fashionable they could even have featured in Vogue - surely the halloumi cheese wrap is a near relative of the pashmina shawl? Unfurling our designer chopsticks, we all headed East for our starters. Sharon's crab rolls were a feast fit for a supermodel, a virtuous melange of crab, ginger and what she described as "coleslawy stuff" wrapped in crisp lettuce leaves. My sushi selection owed more to California than Kyoto, in that greater care seemed to have been paid to its appearance than to the way it tasted. I wasn't even sure that there was any fish hiding in the dainty whorls of rice. But at least it was succulent and fresh.

Helen's dim sum selection was served in a steamer, despite the fact that most of the pieces were fried, and was only one step above the equivalent offering from Marks & Spencer. Helen, however, wouldn't hear a word against it, having already decided that myhotel was very much her kind of hotel. "It might not be at the cutting edge of dim sum," she eventually conceded, "but I'd still really like to stay here."

Anyway, as the menu reminded us, eating is only part of the mychi experience, which also includes "sharing, talking, dreaming, laughing, planning and relaxing". They missed out panicking, bitching, bickering and making fun of fortune-cookie philosophising, all of which we also managed to fit in. A sensational bottle of Au Bon Climat from the thoughtful and adventurous wine list also helped to get our chi flowing nicely.

The variable quality of the starters continued into the main courses. I was fairly happy with my chicken yakitori, which was actually more like a Middle Eastern chicken kebab, featuring seared hunks of skewered meat, peppers, and what I took to be a mushroom, only to discover too late that it was a chicken liver. Sharon's Thai-style chicken came in an enormous portion, four joints in a sludgy sauce which nodded towards a green curry, but whose blandness betrayed none of the expected zing of lemongrass or sweet basil.

Helen tried to stay positive about her salmon teriyaki, but it was a challenge - it was over-fishy and unpleasantly dense in texture. "If I invited people round for dinner, and tried to do the kind of food they serve in trendy restaurants, this is what it would be like," she concluded. Side dishes of jasmine rice, garlicky bok choi and mashed potato ranged from competent to disappointing.

Still, mychi isn't really a place for people who are passionate about food. It's lifestyle-led, for diners who want to co-ordinate their eating experience with their designer outfits, and to enjoy themselves in a stylish, unintimidating atmosphere. As such, it works very well, and at around pounds 25 a head, there should still be a bit left to contribute towards that next trip to New York

mychi restaurant, myhotel, 11-13 Bayley Street, Bedford Square, London WC1 (0171-667 6000). Daily lunch and dinner. All cards accepted. Disabled access. No smoking.

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