At about 3:30 A.M. yesterday a fire was reported at the Onegin restaurant on Yehuda Halevy Street in Tel Aviv. Four engine crews responded within minutes and discovered that the entire restaurant was ablaze. The firefighters were unable to control the fire, and the premises were destroyed.

Police officers and fire investigators began looking into the cause of the blaze, and searched for possible arson suspects. They said they believe the fire may have been set. The owner of the restaurant was called in to give a statement, in which he said he is not involved in any disagreements and does not suspect anyone of being behind the fire.

Onegin opened in December and was immediately popular, with Hummers frequently parked near the entrance while their owners wait for a table inside. It is one of at least three Tel Aviv restaurants whose owners or main backers are Russian citizens. The main investor in Herbert Samuel, in partnership with renowned chef Yonatan Roshfeld, is Yair Malkin, son of Russian businessman Vitaly Malkin. Pushkin (formerly RDB), on Montefiore Street, is owned by Alexei Zacharenko. Onegin is run by Michael Altfeder, who has managed other restaurants in the city.

Altfeder, 33, partnered with chef Leonid Winikov and two silent partners who are Russian nationals, according to Altfeder, in Onegin. The restaurant's decor was particularly elegant, and apparently suited to its clientele: Onegin's New Year's Eve menu included NIS 3,000 bottles of champagne and whole suckling pigs. The price for an eight-course meal was about NIS 1,000 per person, and the New Year's address to the nation by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, from a Russian station that can be seen in Israel, was broadcast to diners.

With its menu Onegin sought to recreate dishes from Czarist times, given a contemporary interpretation by its Russian-Israeli chef. The sums lavished on the restaurant raised the bar for local establishments. The prices charged for food and drink, the large sums put into the design and the imported furniture represented a challenge to local restaurateurs who viewed it as an expression of superfluous ostentatiousness.

Winikov and Altfeder yesterday declined to issue a response.