As I taste my way around the restaurants of London it is inevitable that you start to form attachments with some of them; not necessarily because they are where you have the best food or the best wine, but instead because you just have a wonderful time there. They start to form a special place in your heart, insisting that you return to visit them; the fact that you can have fabulous food and wine there is almost a fortunate bonus. Chez Bruce in London’s Wandsworth is such a place for me. There is something about the convivial ambience of the place that just makes it special. So, when it came to wanting to choose a venue to take my godfather to celebrate his 60th birthday – it was an obvious choice.
On my last visit I was celebrating an anniversary with my wife and as such we requested a table upstairs in their smaller, more intimate dining room. For this visit we were downstairs in their main dining room, which hums with activity without ever feeling like it gets overly loud or busy. Our visit was for lunch and we had selected a beautiful summer’s day (something we’ve been blessed with plenty of this English summer); the dining room was bathed in glorious sunshine and the restaurant had opened all the windows at the front where it faces across the road to Wandsworth Common looking equally resplendent bathed in sun. There was something that smacked of the continent in this experience. To start the meal I took a gin martini as I have been getting so obsessed with negronis recently that I have been neglecting my first cocktail love – the classic gin martini.
For my starter I chose a Fishcake served with a Poached Egg, Hollandaise Sauce, Smoked Haddock and Chives. It goes without saying that the egg was poached to absolute perfection and that the hollandaise was rich, buttery and decadent. I liked the fish in the fishcake, which was delightfully crispy on the outside and yet soft and delicate on the inside. The addition of the little morsels of smoked haddock around the edge of the dish were a nice little treat to accompany the fishcake, but the real genius for me was the pickled cucumbers that it came with. They added a nice textural element, but also gave a different flavour-type as a contrast to the rest of the dish. It is little details like this that for me take dishes to a new level from what you might strive to create at home. We were off to a good start!
When it came to the main, I went for Barbary Duck, served with Spiced Pastilla, Pickled Cherries and Sautéed Hispi Cabbage. I loved the presentation of this dish as soon as it was put in front of me. Not overly dressy, or particularly intricate; instead it celebrated the main element of the dish – that beautiful duck, which had such a pleasing rose hue to it telling me that it had been cooked absolutely perfectly. The duck was rich and juicy, with the fat having been nicely rendered. The little Pastilla parcel on the side was a revelation, I had tried Pastilla in Morocco ands this was it presented in an elegant fashion to augment this dish. It contained sweet notes, plus some gentle spices that were a perfect match for the duck – bravo, Chef! Bravo! Matching cherries with duck is a classic combination, but once more there was that little flash of genius, where instead of serving them as a cherry sauce, they were served pickled, which gave a little (but much-needed) tartness to the dish, which without it may have been a smidge too sweet. Again this was classic cooking, done very, very well.
We had quite a range of mains ranging from fish to meat to vegetarian, which made it quite challenging to pick a wine to go with them all. I decided that a light red, I was originally going to go for a Pinot Noir but in discussion with the Sommelier I veered towards a 2010 Guido Porro Vigna Santa Caterina (Barolo, Piedmont). We had it decanted at the start of the meal and I really think that this was needed, as it was only by the main course that this wine was really starting to express itself. Once it did, it started to reveal that wonderful Barolo combination of floral elegance, combined with some more weighty notes of dark fruits and sweet spice. It had a particularly lovely mouth-feel to it and was all set-off by a tremendous balance which gave it a long, sustained finish. I think it was a good match for most dishes, but it particularly went well with my duck!
I didn’t even need to look at the menu when it came to the dessert, I knew what I was going to go for – the legendary Chez Bruce cheese board! The cheese trolley is wheeled out with a great deal of pomp and no little circumstance, Edward Elgar would I’m sure have been proud of it. Our cheese sommelier (is this a thing, it feels like it should be?!) took us on a tour of the different cheese options, from hard cheeses, to goats’ cheeses, to blue cheeses. Unsurprisingly I went for some of each so that I could try my way around the full flavour spectrum. I must say that I can’t recall what all of these delicious cheeses were or where they came from, but I can say that I very much enjoyed them and I was really impressed by the depth of knowledge that the cheese sommelier was able to impart about all of these cheeses (even if I can’t remember that detail now!). To go with the cheeses I went for a glass of 2003 Krohn Vintage Port.
This really was a lovely lunch and re-affirmed my love of Chez Bruce. I feel that the food represents wonderful value (the three courses are £42), which for Michelin-star quality cooking is exceptional. But more than anything else, it is quite simply a place that I enjoy myself tremendously at. Everything about it speaks of the things that I hold most dear in life: good food, good wine, good company and a roaringly good time.