I never see famous people. I live in Notting Hill and so I am sure I must be constantly surrounded by famous people but the best I have managed so far is a sighting of Stella McCartney and I am still not entirely sure it was her or just a random curvaceous red head with poker straight hair and big sunglasses. So, it is with a justified thrill that I would like to report spotting Sean Penn dining at Refuel at the Soho Hotel when I was there for dinner on Saturday night. He was ridiculously handsome although clearly old enough to be my father. He was with a stunning looking stick of a girl and seemed to spend a lot of time fiddling with his Iphone. Sadly the Sean sighting was the highlight of the meal. This was not entirely surprising to me, given that we were eating in the Soho hotel’s ground floor restaurant which was essentially the lobby for the hotel.
The large space is divided between a bar and dining area by some low partitions. There are dark polished wooden floors and brown leather club seats. The look is modern, inoffensive and (let’s face it) very hotel lobby. You half expect someone to start tinkling away at a grand piano in the corner. Of course, Refuel aims for a much cooler crowd than this so instead the lights are dim and the music of choice is drum and bass. Drink prices are exorbitant, the cheapest wine by the glass hovers around the £8 mark. This contrasts with the reasonable pricing of the three course set menu at £2o. However I can’t say that £20 is actually good value as this is cooking by numbers and the food is bland and boring. A starter of calamari fritti with an accompaniment of a dollop of caper mayonnaise tartare flecked with herbs was rubbery and uninspired.
From the mains the chargrilled chicken was a desultory breast with suspiciously perfect char marks across it which looked like the type you find on a “grilled” but actually microwaved chicken burger. There was certainly no delicious grilled flavour. The chicken was served on a bizarre salad of grated carrot, pumpkin seeds and mustard which had an unpleasant astringent taste akin to washing detergent. I could not bring myself to finish it. A better option was the steamed plaice served in a broth of peas and the occasional mussel which was at least edible.
The only thing I didn’t hate was the cherry clafoutis pudding to finish. The custard base was studded with large ripe cherries and served piping hot with a sprinkle of icing sugar on top. I couldn’t even drown my sorrows as the wine list is steeply priced with the cheapest wine available by the glass being over £8.
Refuel is a restaurant with unsuccessful pretensions which serves rather dull food. Thank god for the lovely company to farewell a gorgeous friend Margie from London and the celebrity spotting otherwise dinner at Refuel would have been a complete disaster.
Details: 4 Richmond Mews, London W1D 3DH (Ph 020 7559 3007) Tube: Tottenham Court Road
Damage: Reasonable for the set menu at £20 a head