Chez Bruce

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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.
 
 
Essentials
Details: 2 Bellevue road, Wandsworth Common, SW17 7EG (Ph: 0208 672 0114) Tube: Balham
Damage: Budget breaking
8/10
 
Links
Bruce Poole has worked with Phillip Howard at The Square, you may want to read my review of The Square here.

Chez Bruce on Urbanspoon

12 comments

  1. Oh dear – how rude of them. And also a bit odd to complain right at the end – they must’ve sat through their meal fuming.

    I’ve complained about another diner only once – there was a businessman braying into his blackberry (also Australian, but in no way am I stereotyping!). I asked the waiter to move us and he did so, with minimum fuss.

    Still, sounds like you had a great meal!

  2. I hate that upstairs room at Chez Bruce – the atmosphere is really oppressive, it needs some piped music or something. Every whispered word, every creak of your chair is distinctly audible to everyone else in the room. I tried to stifle a sneeze once in an effort to remain discreet – unfortunately it didn’t work so well and I made an extremely loud and sharp PFFFF! sound. The woman on the next table actually screamed.

  3. How awkward. I can sympathize with you. Even when Americans speak at a “normal” room volume, the accent just sticks out, I think, and the stereotyping begins.

    I’ve been meaning to visit Chez Bruce for years, so it’s great to read about your meal, and I’ll be sure to avoid being seated in that upstairs room (esp after reading Chris’s comment).

  4. You said “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.” Maybe for four Australians but not for us quieter Brits. I was the person who complained and your laugh sounded like a dieing goat being slaughtered for Eid. I’m not racist either.

  5. Is it not obvious that a better outcome for everyone would have been for the couple to ask politely to be moved? That way you could bray like a dying goat, and they could enjoy their romantic tete-a-tete. Seems a bit pointless to complain at the end of a meal.

  6. Don’t you just hate passive aggresive people? I mean really, you got a problem, say something! it’s nobody’s fault but their own that their meal was “ruined”. I also don’t agree with the waiter giving them comps, if anything he should have given comps to you for being insulted!

  7. Thank God for the odd bit of life in a dining room. Nothing I hate more than feeling I have communicate by eyebrow, and whisper my words of rapture over an outstanding cheese board like the one at Chez Bruce. It remains my favourite fine dining restaurant in London – and I’m with MTV on the creme brulee.

  8. If people don’t want to interact with other diners they should stay home – instead of making passive aggressive comments to the wait staff at the end of a meal and then following them up with anonymous abuse on the internet!

  9. Lizzie – I promise there were no blackberrie/ phones involved – we were just having quite a normal conversation although by definition four people speaking is usually louder than two.

    Chris – I did notice your comments about the ambience the time that you went.

    An American in London – The food was really excellent it was just a pity that we had such a strange experience with our fellow diners. And the cheese board – to die for.

    Anon – I actually don’t think you are the person who complained or that you were even there because the person who complained wasn’t English. I hadn’t mentioned the couple’s nationality as I did not want to lead to further stereotypes about certain nationalities that are more likely to complain! If it was you (which I doubt) perhaps you could have asked the waiters to ask us to keep it down if in fact there was a problem or asked to be moved rather than being unhappy during your whole meal.

    Jet Setting Joyce – Sounds like a sensible solution.

    Wine Sleuth – Exactly my thoughts!

    Tim – To be honest I thought a group of people enjoying themselves added rather than detracted from the atmosphere at the restaurant.

  10. The look does look rather delicious. I laughed when you mentioned the booking system, yes what’s wrong with just calling up?

  11. That cheese board looks divine! Hope you managed to source some equally fabulous cheese Saturday.

  12. Lorraine – it seemed all too complicated – quite popular in London though sadly

    Bron – not quite in that league!

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