The first I saw of Phillipa Wylie was in a photograph. It was taken for a picture essay about young women chefs that appeared in the Independent on Sunday 18 months ago. It was the sort of photograph that wins prizes, but it was edited out of the series. Wylie was not a model, but a chef. And as a chef, she had not, as the French say, arrived.

Then only 24, Wylie was working in a place better known for the gravel in its hallway than the food on its plates. Unsurprisingly, she quickly moved, to the River Cafe in Hammersmith, west London. Here she studied the cooking of intensely-flavoured peasant-style Italian food, reinvented as a luxury taste by two chic Londoners, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.

Some time after this, quite accidentally, we met. She was in a west London bar with another woman, a reflexive mimic and wit called Bennie Neville, with whom she hoped to open a restaurant.

They spoke admiringly of the most modern and handsomely produced of Eighties cookery books, City Cuisine, the work of two young and glamorous Californian women chefs and a whiz of a graphics designer. Wylie and Neville seemed to be plugged into what was happening in restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Sydney. It occurred to me then that these girls were rock'n'roll sort of chefs, and that they were still busking.

During the months that followed, reports filtered back of the pair's various attempts to open their own restaurant. They went through negotiations for three sites before securing a long, tall room on the Golborne Road, at the northerly edge of west London.

It opened the week before last opposite Lisboa, the famous Portuguese coffee shop, and in the shadow of the concrete behemoth, Trellick Tower. Like almost every restaurant that has opened in London during the past year, it has a ridiculous name: Tabac. Evidently chandeliers were falling from the ceiling on opening night and guests' feet were sticking to the wet varnish on the downstairs parquet floor. The licence is still behind schedule, so until 5 October it is BYOB.

But it is already clear that Neville and Wylie have pulled it off. Neville, wearing a chic linen jacket, makes a smooth, witty captain. The night I visited, she seemed to have handsome young professionals, described alternately as 'partners' or 'investors', around every corner. Though outnumbered by these management types in civvies, our waiter was a graceful pro.

Dinner took longer to arrive than in conventional restaurants (but it was that much better once it got to us). Much of this, I suspect, is simply a teething problem. Wylie, and a second chef, Jane Baxter, brought over from the River Cafe, will need some time to run in the production line. An antipasta contained a rich, herb-spiked bean salad, courgettes roasted with mint and melting slices of prosciutto. A quartered fig looked pretty, but did not taste of much.

Another starter, fried lamb's brains with a wedge of lemon and a rich garlicky puree, was delicious, the batter light and crisp, the brains melting.

Main courses were almost home-style: a rough lamb stew with a sweet pumpkin couscous and beef served with sweet potato and chilli gratin. The pleasure of this food was the intensity of the flavours, the pungency of the mint, the properly luxurious fatty richness of the lamb.

It is food that uses twice the normal amount of herbs, and twice the cooking time, sold at moderate restaurant prices (pounds 2.75-pounds 6 for starters, pounds 7.50-pounds 11.95 for mains). The prices may go up, the wait may shorten, the quality may slip marginally. Enjoy it now.

THE rock'n'roll element in Wild World, a new basement restaurant in Hammersmith, is more obvious; in fact, it is unavoidable. Music booms. A group of sleek young people loiter around a desk at ground-level reception, one of whom escorts guests downstairs into a spare basement curiously decorated in dusky North African colours. All the room needs is a terrace and a sea-view. What it gets is a series of faintly disturbing prints showing a man wearing sunglasses with an Ionic column protruding from his head.

The food was remarkably good. I learnt after the meal that it was cooked by Mark Broadbent, a hardworking young chef whose food I have eaten at 192 in Notting Hill, the Fire Station in Waterloo, the Brackenbury in Shepherd's Bush.

Here is what we ate at Wild World (as listed by Mr Broadbent): Serrano Ham, Baked Vine Tomatoes, Rocket and Olives, pounds 4.85; Toasted Baby Scallops, Salted Almonds, Piquillo Peppers and Lemon Oil, pounds 5.25; Wrapped Cornfed Chicken Breast, Pancetta and Cabbage, pounds 10.50; Rib-eye Steak, Horseradish Mash and Red Wine Shallot Sauce, pounds 12.

Now, it would take a dinner party dilettante to make this shopping list of goodies unpleasant and Mr Broadbent is no dilettante. Even more impressive than the goodies was the precision with which he cooked the chicken, which is so often dry when boned and stuffed. The steak was good, ditto the mash. Beneath their exotic nutty topping, the tiny princess scallops were perfect.

Wild World charges grown-up prices. It serves good, grown-up food. Its (dancing) waiters could not be nicer. Its (fixable) problem is mistaking the atmosphere of a restaurant as interchangeable with that of a terminally groovy hairdressing salon.

Tabac, 46 Golborne Road, London W10 (081-960 2433). Open 10am-3.30pm, 7-11pm Mon-Sat, 12 noon-4pm Sun. Light meals from pounds 5, full ones from pounds 30-pounds 35. Visa, Access.

Wild World, 264 King Street, London W6 (081-748 0333). Light meals from pounds 10, full ones with wine pounds 20-pounds 30. Open lunch Sun-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Access, Visa.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments