23 SEPTEMBER 1995, Page 58

EVERY WEEK restaurants open. Not all do well, and even

those which do well enough often never really emerge from obscurity. I don't know quite what it is that makes certain restaurants become talked about, become not merely places to eat but what the Americans call restaurants of desti- nation. PR and meticulously organised hype can, obviously, have something to do with it, as can reviews. But for a restaurant to make it, there has to be a buzz that somehow relies not at all on publicity, other than word of mouth. In the ten weeks since The Sugar Club opened I haven't seen any publicity or indeed any reviews; and yet everyone I've seen recently has been talking of it.

The fact that it's in fashionable Notting Hill is obviously significant. But, despite the old rule about the three most important things in guaranteeing a restaurant's success being location, location and location, place is not all. That's to say, Notting Hill is more densely restauranted then any other area in London, but not every restaurant to open makes it, and those that do don't often lure the 192 crowd — the local measure of trendi- ness in these parts.

The Sugar Club is situated in All Saints Road, once considered a no-go area by whites who weren't interested in buying drugs, now a walkway of slick and trendy restaurants, frequented not by dreadlocked men but by W11 trustafarians.

The restaurant itself looks as yet a bit too pristine and neat to fulfil all the require- ments of the would-be cool, but it obviously satisfies on all important counts. It's both elegant and pretty, which should be a con- tradiction in terms, but here isn't. Every- thing is cream and palest parchment. Smokers can sit upstairs, non-smokers are pushed into the basement. Well, this is Notting Hill, and I do quite like the inver- sion of contemporary values. The basement is actually a good place to find yourself: to one end is the tastefully arranged yard of a garden, to the other the open kitchen.

Food is ultra-modish. Tick where appli- cable: yes to rocket, polenta, chick-peas, squid, chilli and butternut squash. I had managed to get my hands on a menu before going, and to tell the truth I wasn't madly eager: it is hard not to be bored with seeing all the usual suspects. But I'm glad I went, because the cooking transcends contempo- rary culinary clichés. Peter Gordon is a New Zealander (as are the owners of the place, Ashley Sumner and Vivienne Hay- man) who attacks his ingredients with suit- able new-world verve. He's seriously got talent and that comes across. Deep-fried squid was seared crisp on the outside, but still sweet and welcomingly soft, quite unfa- miliarly tender within and piled on a mound of diced feta, onion• and tomato. This combination worked: it didn't taste tricksy, merely intense, a tangle of sharp- ness and creaminess, heat and sweetness.

Grilled scallops with sweet tomato-chilli sauce and crème fraiche would have pulled off the same trick, I think, had the chilli-hot sauce been less sweet. There was just a hint of jamminess about it. But the scallops themselves were exquisite and perfectly, that's to say hardly, cooked.

Roast chump of lamb, cut into thick pink slices, came with butter beans that were infused with the sweet aromatic braise and polenta that was flecked with sage and rose- mary and lightly grilled. Polenta has become so overfamiliar that no chef could dare offer it unless it were really up to the mark. This polenta made one forget how common it's become, made it freshly excite. The roast sea bass with a Bulgar wheat and parsley salad (a sort of restrained tabbouleh) and mint may- onnaise, like the scallops, was flawed. The only thing wrong with it was the mint mayon- naise: it was much too acidic. I don't think this was due to too much vinegar or lemon so much as to too much extra virgin olive oil, which has a very high acidity. I think good mayonnaise needs to be made, at least in part, with less good oil. Also it was made in a Magimix, and I hate mayonnaise made any other way than by hand. The texture is all wrong when it's machined into gloopiness. (I have the same reservations about the Mag- imixed mash on the menu.) But the fish, again, was superb.

Puddings I was only lukewarm about: I thought the raisins in the biscotti were a mistake and the pistacchio sbricciolona with the `hokey-pokey parfait' (impossible not to put this appellation for caramel ice- cream in embarrassed inverted commas) dusty and bland. The orange, ginger and apricot cake was soothing, however, as was the mint tea I had afterwards. With a cou- ple of glasses of champagne and a bottle of sharp, bright New Zealand sauvignon, our bill for two, with service (not included), came to £100.

The date on this page is the date the other much talked about restaurant, Terence Con- ran's latest, Mezzo, which seats 700, opens in Wardour Street. It would be premature to pronounce now, but an early recce promises much. Watch this space.

The Sugar Club, 33a All Saints Road, Lon- don WI I; tel: 0171 221 3844. Open seven nights a week, lunch Saturday and Sunday only, till October when it will be open for lunch and dinner every day.

Nigella Lawson