On a recent Sunday, as the sun cast a gentle glow over the lazy autumn day, a group of us walked to Chez Bruce, the Michelin-starred restaurant on Bellevue Road by London’s lush Wandsworth Common. Now that we’re domiciled in the Sarf London ‘hood, it was time to check out this south-western stalwart of the cuisine scene, established in 1995 by the restaurant’s namesake, Bruce Poole, and Nigel Platts- Martin.
Monsieur had been a little bemused by a call and e-mail to check that we were still on track for our reservation, presumably to assure restaurant management that we weren’t going to do a runner, leaving a coveted, yet empty table on their hands. They needn’t have worried; we’d been eager to visit Chez Bruce since moving into the general area at the end of the summer (and before). Besides, I’d already printed a sample menu and drooled lovinglyover the delectable descriptions of Chez Bruce creations. Once I’ve done the drooling, there’s no turning back.
The initial impression of the dining room is that of self-assurance: clean lines, a calming neutral shade on the walls and the careful placement of contemporary tableaux about the place (some quite diverse, but enough space between them to create more of a gallery feel than a clash of the artworks), all creating a quietly confident ambience. The floors and furniture are no-nonsense dark wood, the tables all shrouded in crisp white linens, the glassware sparkling in its simplicity, the overall look completely unpretentious, yet elegant and somehow moneyed at the same time. It takes quite a knack to pull off this genre of presentation – a bit like the no-make-up-make-up-look.
The menu arrived, positively bulging with seasonal produce, from butternut squash to game – it was fit for the season. Our waitress proffered first a round of spiced cheese crackers, then the bread basket. I chose a cube of focaccia that was so fresh it was like eating a little cloud of Italian bread.
The yellow circle of butter sat on a streaky slab of granite – creating a subtly artistic table statement with geometry and contrasting textures on the otherwise blank canvas. Shortly after carafes of red and white wine hit the table, our starters arrived. Monsieur’s came just before mine: a bright little red casserole dish of venison dotted with home-made spaetzle and my favourite-ever fungus – the girolle.
I have quite a thing for mushrooms, so my starter of choice was the wild mushroom and parmesan custard with fennel salad and truffled polenta chips.
The mushrooms hid in the savoury custard at the bottom of the dish, whilst dice of braised fennel and courgette sat atop the eggy mix. The custard was rich, so rich that it demanded the coolness of the vegetable ‘salad’ to balance it out. The earthy mushroom, pungent parmesan and soft aniseed of fennel complemented each other in both flavour and texture: strong to fresh, soft to crisp. The polenta chips were also a delight – creamy within their delicate, crisp, golden exterior. I thanked the angels for only sending me four, thus saving my already ample hips from further curvature. As for the quantity of the dish, it was well-gauged; I couldn’t have eaten another bite, but a mouthful less would have left me begging for more.
The game on the menu almost lured me in, but in the end it wass the skate that caught me. Light, with a zig-zag of deep orange butternut squash purée, fresh mussels echoing the amber hue, and sage leaves so crispy that they were a treat in their own right.
It was time for dessert. Confusion set in. Should I indulge in the warming poached pear or satisfy my inner cheeselover with a plate of England’s finest? I deferred to the wisdom of our waitress, Fran.
“The hot chocolate pudding’s a signature dish here,” she told me and, with her knowing look and nod of encouragement, three out of four of our party were persuaded in this gooey direction. It was really quite exquisite, with a refreshing scoop of praline parfait melting into marbled magnificence about the warm chocolate base, but once more I was impressed by how well the chefs had judged quantity. With such intense sweetness, no matter how well counterbalanced by its creamy partner, the chocolate pudding could easily have pushed one over the gastronomic edge, had it been even one dessertspoonful larger.
As it was, we could all still move after our Sunday afternoon feast at Chez Bruce, happily walking the long way home, with detours in the interest of regional familiarisation. The food had happily exceeded our (high) expectations, yet hadn’t swamped our digestive system to the point of regret. The staff were psychic – predicting exactly when we might need them and disappearing when we didn’t. At one point in conversation, I swear I didn’t see our wine glasses being filled, yet miraculously they had been. This was a disconcerting show of extraordinary stewardship for the woman who prides herself on her observational skills, prompting me to wonder if the Chez Bruce staff uniform might include invisibility cloaks. It’s not easy to deliver top service without making a patron feel smothered and at Chez Bruce they do it so effortlessly that they should could open a school for aspiring members of the hospitality fraternity, teaching this very art.
So, in summary – Chez Bruce has it all: a Michelin star, beautifully-appointed dining room, leafy outlook, fine food in elegant quantities and highly-practised staff. With such a delicious neighbour, we’re sure to be back for more.
Chez Bruce, 2 Bellevue Road, London, SW17 7EG
Telephone: 020 8672 0114