I keep waiting for some real proof that I've grown up. Yes, there is an increasing reliance on the rejuvenating powers of Clairol and the worrying realisation that old men no longer remind me of my father, but - grown up? Nah.

 

However, there's something about sitting with another woman in a hotel dining room that just makes you feel as odd as a two-headed sheep and more mature than Barbara Cartland - but maybe not quite as dead.

 

Ensconced beside the Argos-style candelabra in the Landmark Hotel on Marylebone Road, your voice automatically drops to a hushed whisper as if conversation was a very dirty secret that no-one must hear. You find yourself adopting an English accent like that of a muffled goose and wish you had worn your pink chiffon or brought the pugs. And instead of doing true confessions over the canapˇs you unaccountably start talking about great-nieces and god-children - even when you don't actually have any. It's a little known medical condition called hotelitis and is accompanied by panic, sweats and hot flushes when you finally come to pay the bill - and this restaurant does nothing to ease the symptoms.

 

After more than a decade at his restaurant outside Reading where he earned a Michelin star, John Burton-Race has upped spoons and moved to the unprepossessing ground floor of the Landmark. The room, entered through the atrium of the main hotel, has a vast and elaborate plasterwork ceiling, a trio of glittering chandeliers, a corporate carpet of beige swirly hideousness and lots of faux marble. The prices, however, are brutally real.

 

Sit down. You'll need to. The prices will make your bosom fall right into the soup.

 

There is a set menu at dinner for £45, a menu gourmand at £160 for two and the a la carte where entrees cost in the region of £35, starters £25 and desserts £16. You need to be either a rich heiress or have a very generous expense account.

 

We had some elegant canapˇs which took longer to explain than to eat, ordered a modest bottle of wine, and warily examined the menu. The hors d'oeuvres featured mostly sea food - langoustine, roasted scallops. crab and a couple of foie gras dishes, but we decided on two from the set menu. I had a tortellini generously stuffed with crab-meat which was gently perfumed with ginger and coriander. It was nigh on perfect - fresh, summery and well-balanced. My friend had a baby courgette flower - the only young thing in the room - stuffed with a bland asparagus mousse and served with a fairly pungent truffle sauce which, as the menu promised, 'masked' rather than enhanced the subtlety of the dish.

 

For the main course, nothing on the set menu caught our imagination - lamb cutlets, tagliatelle with mushrooms and asparagus, fillet of brill or a roast mignon of beef - dull and uninspiring.

 

Instead with happy memories of my battered old Cordon Blue cookery book, I chose sole bonne-femme. It was proficient, though - again - the cep mousse was uninteresting and the accompanying cream sauce overweeningly rich after several mouthfuls. My friend's pan fried sea bass - a tiny fillet balanced on some overdone vegetables and served with langoustine tails and a bouillabaisse sauce was adequate but lacklustre. The food was generally of the standard you would expect from an accomplished chef - but at these prices and in such unimaginative surroundings the only things that really sparkled were the chandeliers.

 

For pudding I had another taste of old-fashioned sophistication - a grand Marnier soufflˇ. It was enormous, beautifully executed, as fluffy as a powder puff but tasted about the same. I love the sweet, sticky burn of Grand Marnier but this was all sugary bark with none of the alcoholic bite. Not even the excellent orange sorbet fully redeemed it.

 

We also tried the trio de framboise - three (duh!) artistically arranged, diminutive raspberry desserts which should have cost £16 but, which I now notice, was charged at £19. My friend thought that it was all so expensive that you could almost expect the chef to let you eat it from his hands - though bearing in mind John Burton Race's reputation for fierceness - perhaps not.

 

We had coffee and enough petit fours to have made dessert unnecessary, but - you know how it is - they're there and you eat them. I always wish I could emulate my mad aunt Sarah. Whenever you invited her for tea she would sweep all the leftover biscuits into her handbag and take them home for later. Maybe the children would be more pleased to see me if I arrived home with handfuls of chocolate. Goodness knows, the mini match boxes have palled since the youngest set fire to the hall carpet pretending she was Lara Croft and the lit match a distress flare.

 

Payment was difficult, especially as you have to add on service after you've taken a couple of steadying breaths.

 

'For this amount of money I want either Pearce Brosnan, God or a gigolo.' said my friend. Well, I don't know where she shops, but - hey - let me put the pugs down and I'll give you my credit card. Where do I sign?