Sunday, 22 June 2014
Chez Bruce... a truly epic dining experience
There are some meals that linger in your mind long after you have eaten the last morsel and quaffed the last drop of wine. Such was the case with the meal that I had at Chez Bruce last Friday lunchtime.
As with all memorable meals, it was a celebration. I had recently secured a new job and my success was being toasted by my family with gusto. I had been to Chez Bruce a couple of times before over the years so I was already familiar with the excellent cooking that comes out of the kitchen in this legendary South London restaurant. Arriving early I supped a half pint on Sambrook’s excellent Junction and cast my thoughts to the treat that was in store for me.
Of course, there have been plenty of reviews of Chez Bruce over the years, a lone Michelin Star in what was the veritable gastronomic desert of South West London (having grown up in Wimbledon and Southfields this is no understatement). Established on the same site as the legendary Marco Pierre White venture Harveys (1987 - 1993), Chez Bruce was opened in 1995 by Bruce Poole, a chef who has an incredible pedigree across many of London’s top restaurants during the early 1990s. The food, to my mind is a modern interpretation of European classics, supported by one of the most interesting and inventive wine lists of any restaurant I have been to.
Chez Bruce has been very popular since its establishment and the fame of its kitchen has spread across the country, but it still maintains the feel of a local institution. It is not an overly large restaurant and its position on Wandsworth Common gives it a welcoming, village feel.
One o’clock soon came around and I entered into the cool, contemporary dining room with good acoustic and a clean feel. Usually I am not a particular fan of silver service and fine dining but Chez Bruce deliver it well without being intrusive. There is something quite pleasing about a crisp white linen table cloth, good quality napkins and sturdy cutlery, and I am pleased to write that the restaurant delivered on all counts.
I was the first to arrive and whilst I waited I enjoyed a well-chilled glass of Meantime’s very reliable London Lager and some home made cheese straws, flecked with poppy and toasted sesame seeds. It was not a long wait and soon my mother and a very good family friend arrived to present me with a box of ten Montecristo No.4 cigars! Very nice indeed, the first of the box would be enjoyed post lunch, to aid the digestive progress.
As it was a celebration a bottle of Champers was ordered with immediate effect. The Gratiot-Pillière, Tradition, Brut slipped down smoothly and was a much better foil for the cheese straw than the beer. I’m not a regular Champagne drinker but this was exceptionally good with a lovely light colour and a dry edge which lightly stroked the tongue rather than stripping off the tastebuds.
Starters were ordered and and were thankfully presented after a reasonable gap, to allow us to enjoy our first drink. It is refreshing in an age where restaurants harry customers through their meal, so they can fill as many covers as possible throughout the day that, at Chez Bruce, you do not feel rushed in the slightest. The atmosphere was relaxed and the staff seamlessly glided through the restaurant being unobtrusive but also available at the diner’s request.
My starter of crispy pig’s head with poached loin, celeriac, apple and sauce ravigote was very tasty. The unctuous croquette of pigs head with its meaty, slightly gelantinous texture disappeared quickly. The delicate, thinly slice loin was countered by a silky smooth quenelle of celeriac puree and some crisp matchstick of apple tossed through with Ravigote sauce (a vinaigrette with capers, herbs and cornichon), giving an acidic note to cut through the richness of the pork. My mother had a marvelously fresh chilled tomato consommé which was textbook in its preparation and held the concentrated flavour of fresh tomatoes, a spoonful of which would transport you to a cottage garden on a hot summer day. Our family friend had the Fishcakes with cmoked Haddock and clam chowder, pancetta, pickled cucumber and chives, I didn’t try this but was assured that it was excellent. This was accompanied by more Champagne.
We all chose Plaice fillets with beurre noisette, capers, warm charlotte potato salad, samphire and shrimps and accompanied this with a bottle of 2011 Soave Classico, La Rocca, Pieropan. What can I say... the head chef, Matt Christmas and his team pulled out all the stops for this dish. It is definitely one of the best fish dishes I have ever, ever had. The plaice was so fresh that it reminded me of the quality of the catch served at the Hotel Atlantique in Wimereux. A more-ish beurre noisette (brown butter sauce) was dotted with sweet little shrimps and scattered with al dente samphire giving some pleasantly salty notes alongside the occasional caper. It was a triumph and it was all that I could do to resist licking the plate clean. A perfectly proportioned place, it was not too little and not too much, like baby bear’s porridge in that classic fairy tale, it was just right!
I usually have something sweet for pudding but this was one of the rare occasions that I went for the cheese over Chez Bruce’s excellent Creme Brulee (to my mind, it’s by far the best in London). A plate of époisses, cerney and chällerhocker, was presented with some Membrillo (quince jelly), grapes and a basket of homemade fruitbread and oat biscuits. A lovely selection cheese, I am particularly fond of epoisses and this one was ripe and pungent, well offset by the hard chällerhocker which was somewhat like a Manchego and a surprising cerney, which is a creamy goats cheese and worked well on the fruit-bread. Oh and I finished of half of the velvety creme brulee my mother couldn’t manage, so it was a win-win situation.
Coffees, homemade truffles and featherlight shortbread that melted on the mouth. What a brilliant meal. If you have the chance, make sure that you head down to Wandworth Common for some of the best food in the capital, cooked with skill and aplomb. As I sat in my garden afterwards with a cigar and a glass of Bruichladdich I ruminated on the meal, the perfect balance of the dishes and the convivial ambience of the restaurant. This was definitely a meal to remember!