The Kiwi joint that's jumping

THE SUGAR CLUB; 33a All Saint's Road, London W11 1HE. Tel: 0171 221 3844. Open daily 12.30- 3 and 6.30-11. Set lunch, pounds 11.50 for two courses, pounds 14.50 for three. Average a la carte price, pounds 20 per person. Credit cards except Diners accepted
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The Independent Culture
The multi-ethnic All Saints Road in London's fashionable Portobello area of fashionable Notting Hill is a lovely spot for media types to dine. Once the scary front-line of west London drug culture, it still has a tatty record store pumping out portentous-sounding dub, and enough people skulking around with plastic bags which could easily be full of drugs (as opposed to radiccio and rocket from Tesco Metro) to make it seem a really, like, heavy hangout. Also, however, there are "funky" dress shops, a studio called Space whose weird-shaped furniture is all over Elle Decoration, and so many police cars that no one would get a second to slash one's soft-top. And there's the All Saints' Road fashionable Sugar Club: one of the few good London restaurants where you can eat in the garden.

Unfortunately we had been so frozen for so many evenings, we had foregone the chance to book al fresco, and ended up peering wistfully over the pretty walled patio with its terracotta tiles, tropical plants, and romantic pin-prick lights in the big leafy tree above. Apart from the garden, the basement/conservatory is the nicest place, with warm minimalist decor and a view into a gleaming kitchen. We, alas, were at street level which, we reassured each other, was still very nice, with French windows flung wide open, wooden deck-style floors, crisp tablecloths, flickering candles, Belinda Carlisle of pop star fame at the next table, and an angled mirror behind the bar which, as my brother pointed out, gave an excellent view down the waitress's cleavage.

The original Sugar Club was in Auckland, New Zealand and the owners and the chef Peter Gordon are all New Zealanders. They imported not only their restaurant formula but kangaroos, one of whom's loins was being served on coriander cous-cous with prune and rosemary chutney. It is always a worry eating zoo-type animals: I have never forgotten the feeling of serial murderer-style shame brought on by a Nairobi restaurant called the Carnivore offering giraffes and zebras on a griddle. Our waiter, however, assured us kangaroos are the opposite of threatened, and in fact very numerous and greedy.

There are many antipodean chefs working in London's trendier restaurants, which has made the phrase "Pacific Rim" a marvellous culinary term to bandy around, even if one has no idea what it means. If the Sugar Club menu is an illustration, it means applying something from every stop on a round-the-world ticket to lightly served salads, grills and pan-fries: smoked salmon (Scotland) for example, on a new potato and chive (English home counties) tortilla (Mexico) with lemon cream and mujjol fish roe (Spanish Kosher). The wine list startled us, not with its New World bias but high prices - only five reds under pounds 20, pounds 7.50 for a glass of champagne and the only wine under pounds 15 the house wine at pounds 10.50.

I started with chunky asparagus, cooked to the perfect point between al dente and tenderness, in a light truffle oil with shaved manchego cheese: good ingredients, un-mucked about with: delicious. My brother contentedly guzzled grilled chorizo with boiled egg, green beans and sweet potato chips: a hearty portion, prettily presented on a delicious chicken stock reduction. Salad of avocado, watercress and marcona almonds was in the same looking good/tasting good vein.

The kangaroo had naturally been ordered as an amusing novelty item. But far from tasting weird - like haggis, perhaps, or whelks - it was almost indistinguishable from beef, served in neat little slices, pink in the middle. Here, we realised, was the answer to the national cow holocaust crisis. Instead of compensation, the government should simply give the farmers kangaroos (a move spookily presaged by the ancient English nursery rhyme "Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon").

Main courses brought more than a nod in the direction of barbie: spicy grills and fries, salad, gourmet chutney accompaniments, no skimping on the portions. It would be hard, in the hands of a less-than-expert chef, to imagine anything worse than duck breast with wok-fried beans and tomato chilli jam, but here it was a delicious combination. My pan-fried chicken, marinated in coconut, chilli, and lime on ginger lentils, arrived on a huge slab of sweet potato, like a great big sandwich. It was good, though a bit too spicy and heavy for me. I was beginning to feel tight around the waistband, especially as we had begun our meal with giant ciabatta breadbuns.

So when my "chocolate pot with cream and almond wafer" arrived, looking, as my brother's girlfriend Toni put it, "like a bowl of cream with an armadillo," I almost flagged. Although the chocolate pot in itself was excellent, an inch-deep layer of runny cream on top is not a serving suggestion I would recommend. Most of us like to see what we are eating before we plunge in, and I was reminded of a friend who once stuck their spoon into a bowl of soup in China and came out with a tortoise. Watermelon, vodka and mango sorbet was tasty, and the sensible choice to avoid bloating, but strawberry ripple ice-cream with berries was the real winner. "Ten times better than Haagen Dasz," Toni declared reverently, and we all duly tasted, agreed and paid homage.

For professional reasons it was necessary to press on to the "plate of biscuits and chocolates" which occasioned the only black mark of the evening. Two out of six, otherwise excellent, were marzipans. Surely no British chocolate lover wants to find marzipan accounting for 33 per cent of their selection? How many marzipans does one find in a box of Milk Tray? None. That is all I wish to say about the matter.

We liked the Sugar Club enormously. Our three-course dinner for three with two bottles of wine and coffee came to pounds 116 plus service but you could easily get away with a starter, main course and half a bottle of wine for pounds 30. It is a smart, hip, tasteful, expertly-run haunt with top- flight food. And in years to come it might well be sporting a little blue plaque saying "The National Kangaroo Herd was born here." !

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