Restaurants: Boing boing. Poor kangaroo

THE SUGAR CLUB; 21 Warwick Street, London W1. Tel: 0171 437 7776. Open Monday to Sunday, from noon to 3pm for lunch, and from 6pm to 11pm for dinner. Average a la carte price for either lunch or dinner, pounds 40 per head, including wine. Credit cards accepted
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The Independent Culture
ONE OF THE things I like best about The Sugar Club is that unlike almost every other talked-about restaurant in London from Pharmacy to Mezzo, the food is actually more interesting than the clientele or the decor. If I'm going to fork out around pounds 50 a head for my dinner, I prefer to know that the money has been spent on the stuff on my plate rather than on Damien Hirst installations or the chance to glimpse a bloke in sunglasses three tables away who may or may not be Mickey Rourke.

But from a critic's point of view it's a total nightmare. I don't know about you but I have a real aversion to learning in obscene detail what some spoilt journo and a few lucky mates had for their dinner. It's right there with other people's holiday snaps, dreams and baby photos. The problem with The Sugar Club is that there's virtually nothing else to talk about: you're far too busy being distracted by your Guindilla chillies, shiso leaves, Garrotxa, yuzu-lime, wasabi flying fish roe and pickled daikon.

For this we should blame New Zealand-born chef Peter Gordon, a man so dedicated to finding the world's weirdest ingredients he actually surfs the Internet to look for them. If you haven't heard of it, it's almost certainly on his menu - prepared, like as not, in a Malaysian style with Moroccan spices, Indian herbs, Guatemalan salsa and a traditional Pigmy tree grub and jungle scorpion puree.

I suppose those of a more traditionalist bent might find this eclectic culinary style (known as Fusion) gratuitously wacky. But personally, I think there are two strong arguments in its favour. First yuzu-lime or pickled daikon wouldn't be considered at all weird if you lived in Japan and maybe its time they were introduced to our culinary vocabulary in the same way that olive oil or avocados have been. Second, though the dishes may sound like a dog's (a Mexican hairless dog's, probably) breakfast, they usually work amazingly well.

This was my first visit to The Sugar Club since it moved to its new, lofty, ecru-washed, air-conditioned premises in central London and I must say, I don't think it's nearly as much fun as the original joint on Notting Hill's frontline. Besides being smaller and less frigid, you also ran the exciting risk of sitting in a garden and being bombarded with bricks and used condoms by class warriors on the neighbouring estates. The only scary thing about the new place is the maitre d' - an immaculately suited, icily polite man with cropped grey hair and a touch of the Mafia don about him - who insisted on immediately ushering my party to our table when really, I could have done with a few more seconds greeting the friends who'd been waiting for me at the bar.

So: the starters. The bit of chorizo I nicked from Jonathan's grilled chorizo on rocket and new potatoes with soft boiled eggs and sweet potato crisps was awesomely good: hot, crisp, very spicy and clearly not, for once, made of gristly minced donkey. Tiffany's grilled scallops with sweet chilli sauce and creme fraiche were as orgasmic as I remembered from the last time I came; if you've never tried them before, don't even think about choosing anything else. My deep-fried salmon nori roll with pickled daikon, miso dressing and wasabi flying fish roe was a thrill, especially the electric green fish eggs. And the spicy kangaroo salad, which I'd made Anna eat because I didn't fancy it myself, was apparently "delicious, sweet, very limey and like a very good beef".

The main course was more of a blur, largely because the two bottles of New Zealand white recommended by our friendly, knowledgeable waiter turned out to be every bit as good as he'd promised. One was a very easy-drinking Wairau Sauvignon Blanc (not too aggressively cats-pee-on-a-gooseberry-bush-y), the other a creamy, honeyed Seresin Chardonnay. But good they should have been at pounds 24.80 and pounds 28 respectively. I reckon the new wine list is far too long and decidedly short on cheaper bottles.

Stupidly, we didn't order Gordon's trademark classic creamy mustard mash, though the mustard-free version on the base of Anna's and my pan-fried reef fish was so ambrosially gorgeous, it almost eclipsed the New Zealand pink snapper, which tasted as if it had been landed 10 minutes ago rather than flown, express, from the other side of the world.

My 12-year-old stepson James, who had been too freaked out to attempt the starters ("Boingy boingy boing. Poor kangaroo"), was terribly impressed by his corn-fed breast of chicken. Once, that is, he had scraped off all the funny bits like the girolle mushrooms and the pungent red pesto. "Definitely better than a Big Mac," he said. That good, really? "Yeah. But not as good as their 59p burgers. There's nothing better than those." Tiffany didn't say much about her vegetarian dish, so it can't have been that special. The only real downer was Jonathan's roast Trelough duck breast on wok-fried sugar snaps and Spanish black beans with ("insipid") tomato-chilli jam. "I don't buy the mixture of flavours," he said. "It's a waste of good duck." I tried it and I agree. It is a very silly dish and must be killed immediately.

Puddings were enormous (too enormous really) and uniformly yummy, though I think charging a fiver for plate of "berries and cherries" is a bit of a rip. Best dish, by popular acclaim, was my terrine of berry sorbet ripple, yuzu-lime and all-spice creams, which tasted like being kidnapped by aliens and then mugged in a souk. Or something equally bizarre. Use your imagination.

Anyway, we all agreed that we liked the new Sugar Club a great deal and would definitely go there again, though only on special occasions. And we particularly appreciated its policy of discriminating against vegetarians, by giving them only one main course, and non-smokers, by dumping them in the gloomy bit downstairs.

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