Restaurants: Sugar plum

Double-decker delights in west London; I could have chosen almost everything on the menu - but what, exactly, are chilli labne croutons? Photograph by Dominic Dibbs
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Question: What is "Modern British Cooking"? Answer: a catchphrase coined to market the 1987 Good Food Guide. It now appears in restaurant reviews more regularly than the words "companion" and "osso bucco". Basically, it refers to restaurant food that is tricky to classify. This food always manages to cost pounds 30 a head, minimum - and is usually not worth it.

The 32-year-old chef Peter Gordon is an unusual Modern British Cook in that he is a serious talent. Never mind that he is from Wanganui, New Zealand - what matters is that he is chef of a new restaurant in Notting Hill, west London, former stomping ground of Alastair Little (darling of MBC). Like Mr Little, Mr Gordon has developed a strong personal style. Also in common with Mr Little, he will be widely imitated - badly.

Flash media-types may already know his food. Name a fashionable spot, and he seems to have done shifts there. But late last year, after being tipped with a gram of cocaine for a plate of chips, Mr Gordon nearly gave up on swinging London. In the event, he got together with two fellow New Zealanders, Ashley Sumner and Vivienne Hayman, and opened the Sugar Club.

It is a double-decker job, the Sugar Club. Upstairs is smart and minimal: only when it is full does one notice the tight seating arrangements and wish to stuff one's starchy, handsome napkin in the mouth of the film director blagging on about Los Angeles at the next table. Downstairs, the kitchen staff work in an open-plan kitchen; there are more tables and a particularly pretty garden. The staff are capable and pleasant, with an unflurried dignity remarkable for a new venue. Best, there is no music.

The night I ate, I could have chosen almost everything on the menu, though there was the awkward question of recognising some things - what, for example, are chilli labne croutons? But the menu pretty much spells out what will be coming your way: a first course listed as a "salt cod and chickpea fritter with cucumber and tomato salad" was just that, though it merits my adding that it was deftly spiced, crisp, good. Another first course, "artichoke with garroxta goat's cheese and rocket", was, more simply put, a salad, and as a sum not quite as good as its parts. Wedges of ripe, salty Spanish goat's cheese were not served to their best advantage at the bottom of dressed rocket and young artichoke hearts.

Of the main courses, "baked cod fillet with saffron and tomato on creamy mustard mash" involved good fish (though slightly undercooked) on first- rate spuds, which are served as a side-dish and good enough to elicit tips of Ecstasy, mescaline and Prozac.

Roast duck breast was served with stir-fried baak-choi, shiitake mushrooms and a mound of mashed sweet potato. The Chinese leaves were perfectly cooked, the whites still crisp. The sweet potatoes were fine,the spicing good. But no Chinese cook would have served duck with the fat so badly rendered. This was a mistake.

For dessert, biscotti - spicy, hard Italian biscuits - were wonderful. Yet the arrangement around them was curiously blobby: two blobs of (excellent) baked apricots; a blob of heavy mascarpone. Next time, I want the caramelised peaches, which look robust and pleasing.

A short wine list produced a '93 pinot noir from Oregon called Firesteed. It was an indulgence at pounds 20.50, but was fantastically good, velvety and full and served at a perfect temperature, which is to say, cool.

If this sounds like a lot of quibbling, it should be stessed that the food at the Sugar Club is not yet quite Mr Gordon's. The place is creaky new. He is breaking in a new kitchen brigade and the sort of precision, largely to do with timing, that his food requires will only come with experience. The remaining test will be resisting the hype of food pundits and their terrible jargon

The Sugar Club, 33a All Saints Road, London W11 (0171-221 3844). Vegetarian meals. No piped music. Smoking and no-smoking sections provided. About pounds 25-pounds 30, including wine, coffee, service and VAT. Open dinner 6.30-11pm daily, lunch 12.30-3.30pm, Sat and Sun. Cash and cheques only

Comments