Have you ever been complained about by fellow patrons at a restaurant? That’s what happened to me last night at dinner at Chez Bruce in Wandsworth. Two fabulous friends, Alice and Liv, had taken MTV boyfriend and I there. We ate in the smaller upstairs dining room which holds about ten tables. At the end of the night it was just us and one couple left. I overheard them telling the waiter: “we came here for a romantic dinner but we couldn’t because of the table of four behind us”. I looked around the room for the offensive table and realised suddenly that they must be talking about us. “This is an expensive restaurant”, said the couple, “some people just don’t know how to behave”. The waiter told them that he was sorry they were not happy and hoped that they would come back another time and then they left clutching complimentary gifts from Chez Bruce. I asked the waiter if I had heard correctly and the couple had been complaining about us. He laughed and said: “Dont’ worry it is just because you are Australian!”.
Mackerel with squid
The four of us are Australian and I am self aware enough to know that Australians have a reputation for speaking loudly, still in no way were we particularly rowdy or raucous. I could not help but feel that the couples complaint was in some way almost racist and I wonder if the waiter would have reacted in the same way if we were Indian, Vietnamese or Nigerian. The whole situation was also quite ironic given that in quite a few reviews of Chez Bruce the only complaint made is that it lacks in atmosphere. None of this of course is Chez Bruce’s fault, although our waiter could have done a better job of reassuring us that our behaviour (and nationality!) was not at fault.
I don’t think the chef Bruce Poole would want his restaurant to be a place of reverence and silent worship. The tounge in cheek name of the restaurant itself suggests someone with a sense of humour is in charge here. The food is honest and unfussy while the award winning wine list is epic in proportions. When you are confronted with a document that is 450 bottles strong it is best to put yourself in the hands of an expert. The knowledgeable sommelier guided us towards a peppery medium bodied Portugese red wine, the Quinta Lagoalva de Sima (2005) which was at the cheaper end of the list at £40 a bottle.
Magret of duck
Although Chez Bruce is a Michelin star restaurant, there are no amuses and there is really no need for them because each of the courses we tried was quite large and filling. At dinner time the menu is a set price of £45 for three courses and there are six or seven options listed for each course. The menu is probably best described as modern British although there is quite a heavy French influence. It simply lists the ingredients used in each dish which sometimes leaves you a little in the dark about what you are ordering, however the waiting staff are always available to answer questions. For example “mackerel fillet with baby squid, crushed potatoes, chorizo, grape and tarragon” is actually a light seafood salad arriving on the plate in a jumble of colour and texture. The ingredients used are far ranging but they all compliment each other. Similarly, a crisp almost sunburnt looking fishcake arrives in a bowl of creamy leak sauce which is the perfect antidote to the dense fishcake. A soft boiled egg sits on top jauntily like a little hat. It is a really lovely dish that is both brilliant and comforting.
Equally praiseworthy is the duck magret which features thick slices of duck breast scattered with lentils and doused in a light red wine sauce. The magret is served with a very clever terrine that contains layers of crisp potatoes alternated with stuffed cabbage. I loved the comfort factor of the glazed game pie which is filled with chunks of wood pigeon, lardons and onions. However the unpretentious pie is slightly overwhelmed by the accompanying game, watercress and orange salad which is rather too busy and fussy.
The cheese board
When it came time for dessert the choice was easy. Chez Bruce is known for both its créme brulée (guess what MTV boyfriend ordered) and its cheese board. The créme brulée had a lightly burnished caramel topping and a lovely silky smooth texture however somewhat disappointingly it was served completley cold. I like créme brulée when the sugar topping has just been caramalised so that it is still hot and some of the heat of the grill or blow torch warms the base slightly as well. There was no such let down with the cheese board (£5 supplement) which was truly a sight to behold. We knew we were in for a treat when tables had to be moved to accomodate the size of the board. The waitress was very knowledgable about every piece of cheese on the board and guided us towards some fantastic cheeses including an amazing creamy roquefort and a rich Lancashire blue. The homemade quince paste was also a highlight.
You should really go to Chez Bruce for the cheese board alone. The good news is that the restaurant has abandoned its previous complicated booking system and now to get a booking all you have to do is call them (miraculous). We had a great time at Chez Bruce even if the spoil sports at the table near us didn’t. Enjoy yourself, but not too much or people may complain.
Details: 2 Bellevue road, Wandsworth Common, SW17 7EG (Ph: 0208 672 0114) Tube: Balham
Damage: Budget breaking
Bruce Poole has worked with Phillip Howard at The Square, you may want to read my review of The Square here.