Thursday, 6 September 2007
Chez Bruce, Wandsworth
With more awards and accolades than you can shake a stick at, most recently London's Favourite Restaurant in Harden's Guide, Chez Bruce in Wandsworth is celebrating its umpteenth year as a destination restaurant, yet unbelievably still has only one Michelin Star. I've given up trying to work out what those Michelin people are on about these days - it was bad enough they rate dross like the Greyhound and Butcher and Grill in Battersea good enough to include and the Fox and Hounds not, but when a restaurant as polished and accomplished as Chez Bruce gets less than a top rating, they must be on a different planet.
So yes, I had a good meal at Chez Bruce. A quite brilliant meal in fact, as close to perfect across all categories as it's possible to get without it being one of those dreams where you wake up and find yourself hungrily chewing the corner of the pillow. After a slightly late start due to one of our party being stuck in traffic, just long enough to sample a glass of house champagne, we made our choices from the menu whilst munching down some of the best bread I've ever eaten - Poilane I was told - with superb butter. Staff balanced the service just right - not too intrusive but there when you needed them - and the wine selections made throughout the evening were very good.
The only thing I would say is that the room was quite dark, a little on the stuffy side and slightly cramped so I occasionally got an elbow in the back of the head when the table behind were being served. But I'm nit-picking - for food of this standard I would have put up with much worse.
My starter of "Hot calf's brain and ham hock terrine with sauce gribiche, crisp potatoes and red wine" obviously caught my eye on the menu straight away. Always a sucker for exotic ingredients I am sometimes let down by the end product, but not so here - the meat was tender and tasty with a lovely little breaded nugget of what I think was more brain on top (so rich it was like fois gras). Accompanying was a little fried quails egg (OK slightly passe these days but I thought it was great), a superb red wine reduction and gorgeous crispy potatoes. A riot of colour, texture and flavour this was an absolute triumph of a dish and I would have it again and again if i could. Great stuff.
Next up, "Boned, stuffed quail with salad paysanne, shallot puree, calf's sweetbread and roasting juices". Interestingly (and delightfully), this dish was served on two plates: One, a moreish salad of fresh bacon and roasted veg (an unusual combination to be honest, but made for great texture contrasts) topped with a piece of sweetbread; the other a meticulously boned quail (kudos to the kitchen for such a skilled task) served on a lentilly red wine sauce and cooked to perfection. The flavours were rich and satisfying, the portion very generous and the crispy fried potato on top a further experiment with texture. You would not want more from any main course.
Finally, and only just unable to quite live up to the lofty heights of the previous courses, was "Orange and saffron panna cotta with bitter orange sorbet, olive oil, lemon and honey". My only other experience with olive oil used as a dessert with a disaster - a watermelon and olive oil palette cleanser I had been served in Claude Bosi's Hibiscus restaurant in Ludlow. Then it was salty and weird, a flavour clash that had everyone at the table even unable to take a second bite. Here though, the oil was the subtlest of overtones to a zingy and fresh fruit dessert, spiced with alcohol and tasting of summer. Topped with crispy chocolate lattice - those textures again - it melted in the mouth and rounded off the evening very well.
Had I had the appetite of a sumo wrestler I might have been tempted to try the impressive-looking cheesecourse. As it was however, despite being stuffed to the gills and thus probably physically unable to even get a small goat's cheese medallion down my neck, there's always the residual guilt of paying for cheeses I could pick up myself from Hamish Johnston for a fraction of the price (and would taste no different), so I passed.
The bill came to around £70 - I wouldn't have felt cheated if I'd paid twice that, as I would have done in Pied a Terre or The Square. So then, brilliant value, top notch cooking and a thoroughly enjoyable evening out. Plus the G1 bus whisked me home from just outside the restaurant to my front doorstep. What isn't there to like about Chez Bruce?