Ex-Sugar Club chefs are brightening up south London's food scene at Surbiton's Luca and The Light House in Wimbledon

Sweetness and light is filtering into the outskirts of London, as two restaurants, one a year old, another opened only a few weeks ago, illustrate perfectly. And this trickle-down effect is thanks in part to The Sugar Club, where New Zealand chef Peter Gordon can claim some credit for introducing a new vocabulary to contemporary cooking in Britain. Apparently coincidentally, two of his former chefs, in kitchens some way south of Soho, are cooking food that infuses their neighbourhoods with his sort of fusion. Except that to call it fusion is to do it an injustice. They're not forcing East and West together, but assembling excellent ingredients from all over the world, thoughtfully matching them into powerfully flavoured combinations, and bringing much-needed refreshment to parts beyond central London.

Sweetness and light is filtering into the outskirts of London, as two restaurants, one a year old, another opened only a few weeks ago, illustrate perfectly. And this trickle-down effect is thanks in part to The Sugar Club, where New Zealand chef Peter Gordon can claim some credit for introducing a new vocabulary to contemporary cooking in Britain. Apparently coincidentally, two of his former chefs, in kitchens some way south of Soho, are cooking food that infuses their neighbourhoods with his sort of fusion. Except that to call it fusion is to do it an injustice. They're not forcing East and West together, but assembling excellent ingredients from all over the world, thoughtfully matching them into powerfully flavoured combinations, and bringing much-needed refreshment to parts beyond central London.

First, to The Light House in Wimbledon ­ the newer, larger and more ambitious enterprise. Though no one's done anything of the sort here before, it's not out of place nor, given its catchment, is the sheer chicness of the restaurant, achieved purely, simply and expensively with slate, stone and wood. It's as if the restaurant has come up with its own, upmarket version of "Animal, vegetable or mineral?" to test its customers. For the ability to identify and appreciate the various quarries and forests that furnished the restaurant is almost as essential as a knowledge of the produce and provenances that characterise the menu.

Sometimes you're told, that the goat's cheese is garrotxa or Ragstone, the manchego is aged; sometimes you're left to guess. I do know that lomo is Spanish for loin of pork and romesco sauce is a paste of almonds and pimento, but don't ask me what shichimi salad with yuzu mayonnaise is, I've no idea. There's enough rocket knocking around to start a space programme, but although dishes are grouped into antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci, it certainly isn't Italian. Not with black bean-marinated mozzarella salad, pickled carrots, spring onions and Thai basil; quail stuffed with couscous and dates on rocket, honey and pistachio salad, or deep-fried prawn ravioli with sautéed mushrooms and grilled nori as antipasti.

Primi is devoted to pasta and risotto dishes. Beetroot ravioli fell into the "bags of personality, shame about the boat race" category, said my friend. The shredded vegetable looked bloodshot through delicate pasta skin dusted with flakes of that old manchego. Just as well it tasted fabulous. My antipasto of rather tough bruschetta with deep-fried artichokes covered with grilled goat's cheese was also no great shakes in the looks department, appearing rather dried up and dreary. It wasn't dreary, but truth be told, took some chewing. Mains ­ secondi ­ consisted of lamb, rabbit, a vegetarian choice and two fish dishes. Salmon, with rosemary and chilli oil, grilled courgette and roast garlic potato provided splendidly clean, clear, focused flavours and no great surprises. Halibut, perfectly cooked, had the romesco sauce to give it piquancy, though the wok-fried spinach and carrots underneath seemed short of seasoning. What's a wok for if not to give spinach a little spice? Everything tasted of itself, and very good, but less sensational than such a menu suggests.

The exception was the marvellous bread rolls, salty and spiked with rosemary. Herbs also came into play at the pudding stage. Cantuccini ­ accompanying a chocolate semi-freddo that was more like a petit pot au chocolat without the petit pot ­ had a nicely surprising tingle of fennel seed. This shared dessert and two glasses of wine each brought the bill to £74 for two.

The Light House is already a landmark in SW19, but with a studiedly neutral interior and grey-uniformed staff, and the uniformly black-clad customers, it was a degree or two too cool to be my ideal destination.

Maybe Surbiton ­ despite being homophonous, and, I'd wrongly imagined, synonymous with suburbia ­ is more my kind of outskirts than Wimbledon. Luca, which is Italian for light, proved a less stone- hearted, more welcoming beacon.

We went for Sunday brunch, the only time it's open during the day, and when the menu is less challenging than dinner. Chef Annie O'Carroll wasn't cooking, but if this is the standard her stand-in achieves, even greater things might be expected when she's in the kitchen. As it was, the Caesar salad was magnificent; the leaves bound with perfectly emulsified dressing, interleaved with thin, crisp croutons, and with the cunning variation of half a perfectly soft-firm boiled egg, with anchovies (salted not tinned) curled round it, on the side. It possessed every quality that makes this salad hailed on so many menus. Duck livers with sweet potato and harissa was a wonderfully powerful, piquant and chunky combination.

The bread, speckled with fennel and pumpkin seeds, was also packed with unexpected flavours. A main course, typical of what might be found on the dinner menu, was loin of pork (they don't call it lomo at Luca) with spinach and potatoes. Tender, fragrant, well-bred flesh and an apple and fig chutney also proved the kitchen knows how to pull off the sweet-and-sour act without being unduly oriental.

Direct hits kept coming. Chocolate and prune cheesecake with crÿme fraîche, was only a cheesecake in the biscuit-base sense; the content was truffly chocolate. And who could resist taking the rough with the smooth, when gritty roast quince is matched with perfectly wrinkle-free wobbly baked egg custard? We spent a fairly trifling £20 a head on lunch, and dinner would be about £25, making it cheaper as well as warmer than The Light House. Luca, in particular, shows Surbiton in a new light.

The Light House, 75-77 The Ridgeway, Wimbledon, London SW19 (0181-944 6338) Daily lunch and dinner. Around £23 without drink. Major cards except Amex and Diners. Disabled access.

Luca, 85 Maple Road, Surbiton, Surrey (0181-399 2365) Tue-Sat dinner, Sun lunch. Major cards, not Amex or Diners. No disabled access

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