Published 22 February 1998 Style Magazine 241st article
In the club: clockwise from back left, Vivienne Hayman, Peter Gordon, Michael Winner and Nadia Stancioff (Vanessa Perry)
It was Deidre's idea to go to the Sugar Club. She's Nadia's PA. She knows the chef. The Sugar Club is in All Saints Road, which used to be rough, but with the gentrification of Notting Hill creeping further north, is now the "in" thing. Gosh, if they went a couple of miles on they'd hit Willesden, birthplace of me. On reflection, nothing could make that fashionable.
If I had my own way, which, tragically, I don't, I'd shoot 99.9% of public- relations people. One of the few left alive would be Nadia Stancioff, the grand PR lady for the Orient Express group of hotels and restaurants. She's quite something, Nadia: regal, witty, warm, wrote a book on her friend Maria Callas, been around, brilliant at dealing with Winner. She's as classy as the Orient Express Group. When she leaves in May they're going to have an impossible task replacing her. I can think of no other PR person I'd wish to have dinner with.
Notting Hill is in my blood. My grandfather, whose naturalisation papers were personally signed by Winston Churchill when he finally took them out in 1901, had a clothes store in Portobello Road, the hub of his mini shop empire. My dad was born there, within spitting distance of the Sugar Club. If you're a champion spitter, that is.
The SC is bistro-like with a long bar on the ground floor, pusher in the basement. I was put in a ground-floor-corner facing the room, with a view of people entering. I like that. An efficient and charming manager, Fred Martell from Cuba, looked after us. He proudly told me they did the first-class catering for Air New-Zealand.
Our three starters were extraordinarily good. They made up for the horrible bread: not warm, tough, rubbery, beyond belief. My kangaroo salad had very tender bits of tasty kangaroo and some nice, spicy sauce that I mopped up with the bread. Vanessa used the word "excellent" for her salad of green beans, marcona almonds, balsamic roast onions, watercress and avocado. Except, as she was eating it, the waiter took her plate away and replaced it with another. They'd forgotten the avocado. Nadia chose the grilled scallops with sweet-chilli sauce and creme fraiche. So far, a triumph.
The decor is somewhat minimalist. Nadia said the walls reminded her of a faded Rorschach test, where they do patterns and you have to say what they represent. Then she said: "What do they do with old napkins on aeroplanes?" This is not a subject I am expert on. "They always give you new ones; the material has never been washed. What do they do with the unused salt, pepper and chocolates? Do you think they give them to the poor? Do they send them to Namibia or something?" I thought it unlikely.
I noticed they had a Sugar Club Cookbook. Everyone has a cookbook. There will soon be a British Telecom Cookbook, a Dixons Cookbook, and, to beat them all, a British Rail Cookbook, published posthumously.
The main courses were okay, but let the high standard down a tiny bit. I'd chosen pan-fried red emperor with macadamia nut crust, spicy carrot and anchovy salad and herb couscous. I think they'd run out of anchovies. Red emperor is an Australian fish, which, with their Air New Zealand connections, was apparently flown there in seconds. It didn't taste of anything much. It looked like a white hamburger. Nadia liked her duck. Vanessa said her savoy cabbage, truffle and parmesan risotto cake with green beans and wild mushroom was okay, then upped it to good. They gave us some mustard mash - their way of doing potatoes. This I found memorable. The chocolate mousse cake with whipped cream was heavy; I mean that as a compliment.
The place is owned by Miss Vivienne Hayman and her partner, Ashley Sumner. He was off that evening. Miss Hayman was jolly. She used to work at the BBC on Janet Street-Porter's Dance Energy programme. The chef, Peter Gordon, came up to say hello. He looked like a serial killer, but had nice manners. I forgot to ask if he'd murder a few dozen PR people for me on his day off. Maybe I'll drop him a note.
Out of the tall windows you could see yellow streetlights illuminating the pillared Victorian stucco of the houses, and a very ugly modernish building called the Notting Hill Training Centre. It's one door away from the Bicycle Workshop.
Years ago, I dated an American actress who'd been in Playboy. She had me wait disapprovingly outside a house nearby while she bought cocaine. What more can I tell you?
I don't care what anyone says - I love Michael Winner's column. It is so delightfully credible. A couple of months ago, I noticed that Mr Winner was a guest at the same restaurant as I. Having had one of the worst, most deplorable meals of my life that night, I look forward with great expectation to seeing a column on this establishment.
B Young, London W1
I am amazed that, on his recent trip on Concorde (Style, February 1), Michael Winner failed to recognise physalis, a food that we northerners take for granted. Might I suggest that he take a look around his local supermarket - and can I accompany him the next time he flies on Concorde to answer any further inquiries?
Polly Styche, Wilmslow, Cheshire
I never imagined I could feel grateful to Michael Winner, but now I have good cause to be so. It had been a long-standing ambition of mine to travel on Concorde, albeit one that I doubt I would ever have achieved. Fortunately, after reading Mr Winner's account, I never want to set foot in it. The prospect of travelling with such people has left me perfectly content to fly economy class, as is my wont.
Larry Ross, London N3
I have read Winner's Dinners for some years, and was wondering when Michael Winner is going to come north of the border. I have been in catering for 16 years - I am currently working at Daniel's Bistro in Leith and L'Auberge in Edinburgh - and I am confident that we can match, if not exceed, the standards of the trendiest places down your way. I'd be interested in your views - if and when you visit.
George Rosie, Leith, Lothian