Some of the best things are those which have stood the test of time. And like a fine wine that gets better with time, Chez Bruce continues to age gracefully in its quaint corner in Wandsworth overlooking the public common.
18 years on since Bruce Poole and Nigel Platts-Martin opened Chez Bruce in 1995, the recipe to maintaining their 1 Michelin star success here has remained the same. Uncomplicated, unpretentious French and Modern European cuisine… delectable, tried and tested combinations with a focus on classical techniques… and impeccable execution and service by a very accomplished kitchen and front of house team. We had an amazing time on our last visit here over 2 years ago and as we settled into our seats this time, it was great to see many of the same faces running the dining room with that same seamless efficiency.
Beetroot and feta salad with blood orange, pine nuts, basil oil and balsamico
Still feeling the effects of the big breakfast we had earlier that morning, Jo and I opted for some of the lighter options on the menu. A beautifully presented beetroot and feta salad got things off to a great start. Flavour-wise, the sweetness of the beets and blood oranges were well balanced by the sharpness of the feta and balsamic vinaigrette. The interplay of textures between the various components were a joy… from crispy to creamy, juicy to velvety.
Grilled baby squid, brandade fritters, chorizo, chickpeas, aioli and piquillo peppers
Grilled baby squid with brandade fritters and chorizo read like a greatest hits compilation of Spanish tapas. All the elements were bold and tasty, but the highlight for me were the freshly deep-fried fritters – creamy salt-cod puree balls, coated in the crispest, airiest of batters. I could have eaten a dozen.
I rarely order fish for my main course, preferring usually to stick to my carnivorous ways. Lunching at Chez Bruce however is one of the few exceptions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: few places know how to cook a piece of fish as well as they do here. And boy did both our fish courses deliver. Brill was perfectly cooked – the surface, a caramelised golden brown… the flesh still flaky and melt-in-the-mouth. The gnocchi on the side, so often overly stodgy, was like biting into a sweet, pan-fried cloud. But it was the gorgeous garlic and Pernod butter that really elevated the dish to that next level. Infused with the sweetness of the shrimp and seaside essence of samphire, I licked every drop of it off the plate.
Brill with garlic and Pernod butter, gnocchi, shrimps and samphire
Cornish gurnard served with Jerusalem artichokes, monkfish liver and meat jus was a richer, bolder dish. The gurnard was cooked with clinical precision yet again – the skin crisp and golden… the fillet still moist. The real revelation for me though was the monkfish liver… something I had never tried before. It tasted like a cross between fish roe and a mild, pan-fried foie gras (only with more ‘bite’). A delicious discovery that I’ll no doubt be looking out for again when it features on a menu. I also had no clue monkfish had such huge livers – the whopper of a slab we were served was as large as the gurnard fillets themselves!
Cornish gurnard, jerusalem artichokes, barley and monkfish liver
A tart rhubarb jelly, topped off with creamy greek yoghurt, oaty crumble and a tangy mandarin sorbet brought proceedings to a happy end. A comforting, uncomplicated, yet brilliant dish like many of the earlier courses.
Yorkshire rhubarb jelly, yoghurt, mandarin sorbet and crumble
Let’s not forget one of the highlights of any meal at Chez Bruce – the wine. And what a list they’ve managed to curate here, many of which are available by the glass or carafe to suit all budgets, however large or small. Kudos to the head sommelier here who seriously takes the time to understand what you’ve ordered as well as any other preferences you may have. She recommended us a carafe of Coto de Gomariz Blanco from Galicia. With notes of sea salt, green fruit and citrus, it complemented our fish courses beautifully.
Sometimes all you need is that old-fashioned 3-course meal to hit the spot. It’s places like Chez Bruce that are a reminder that a great meal doesn’t need to have gimmicks, long waiting lines or cutting edge molecular gastronomy to impress. Birthdays. Anniversaries. You name it. People are still making the trek to Wandsworth to celebrate over a good ol’ retro, prix fixe meal at this South West London institution. And why wouldn’t you?
2 Bellevue Rd, Wandsworth Common, SW17 7EG | www.chezbruce.co.uk | Sat Feb 16th 2013
* lunch for 2 people (including wine & service): £100