Saturday, October 06, 2007

A serious blow-out at Chez Bruce

I begin with an apology. Two restaurant reviews in a row. Usually I would try to intersperse with a recipe but I am just too excited about last night to wait. I promise to hit the stove later today!

But then why am I apologising? It would be wrong of me not to share the joy that is Chez Bruce. I imagine that any London-based food bloggers will have already sampled the aforementioned joy. It is hardly a secret. This one Michelin starred restaurant in unpretentious Wandsworth has been voted favourite London restaurant by all the important guides at some point or another. Think Hardens, Zagat, Square Meal and so on. It is so easy to see why. Let me enlighten you...

First, I think I should set the scene. I have a great friend who, like me, enjoys life's finer pleasures. For our birthdays we have a cunning arrangement involving a great night out in each others' company. I take her to the theatre. She takes me out for dinner afterwards. So, shortly after 5pm yesterday we took our seats in the Aldwych theatre to begin what turned out to be one of my all-time best ever evenings. Now when I say theatre, I have to confess I am not talking of high-brow theatre (which I do love too), I am talking about feel-good, musical entertainment. The sort that makes you want to leap out of you seat and dance in the ailes. This year a serious treat was in store.

We both knew every word. We both knew every move. We had the 'time of our lives'. Yes. You guessed it...

It was sheer brilliance. So difficult to re-create such a well-known film on the stage but it translated well. The casting was - with a couple of exceptions - spot on. My only criticism would be that they 'added' some scenes not in the film. Big mistake in my view. Just no point. Anyway, this is a food blog, not a theatre blog. I will try now to get a move on and tell you about the restaurant...

We arrived early for our 9.30pm slot but our table was already ready. (A quick aside on booking worth mentioning - you should book exactly one month in advance if you want to be sure of getting a particular date.) We were greeted with a warm welcome. Coats were taken and we were shown to our strangely small table, tucked into a corner in the back of the restaurant. There was a nice buzz coming from the young-ish crowd. I surveyed the room. The pleasing symphony of neutral tones, carefully-chosen art and strategically-placed mirrors housed a few intimate couples, several groups of thirty-something friends, family birthdays. I sensed everyone was really rather pleased to be there. It was definitely special occasion territory but not 'best behaviour' territory, if you know what I mean. Everyone seemed... so relaxed. And so content.

Once settled we were handed the wine list and offered an aperitif. My hostess kindly ordered two glasses of Champagne. I handed over two bottles of wine. 'What?'. 'Isn't that the wrong way round?', I hear you ask. 'Doesn't the sommelier usually bring you the wine?'. Well readers, this is where the joy begins. Despite having one of the best and most interesting wine lists I've come across (not-too-long, plenty of interesting and unusual choices, reasonable mark-ups), Chez Bruce does corkage. Yes. Really. A Michelin-starred restaurant that lets you bring your own wine. The fee of £15 per bottle is remarkably reasonable when you think about it. I took Kumeu River Chardonnay, 2004 from New Zealand and Lemelson Stermer Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2003 from Oregon priced at £14.95 and £22 respectively. Add £15 to each of those and you are still paying considerably less than you would be if they were featured on your average restaurant list. Plus it is great to be able to bring special bottles with you to special meals.

What was so great though was that the sommellière was equally attentive to our own wines as if we had bought from the list. We were in no way made to feel guilty about not ordering from their selection. We discussed temperature and decanting/not decanting - she clearly wanted us to get the best from our own wines.

Bread and excellent butter followed. Rather good sourdough bread actually. And then we had the hard part. Making a decision. It all sounded divine. We decided to share two starters. We begun with Buffalo Mozzarella with vichyssoise dressing, dressed mushrooms and truffle oil. As it was placed in front of us, our nostrils were filled with an aroma of decadence. There was no doubt about it. They hadn't skimped on the truffle oil! It was an intriguing combination. Neither of us would have ever thought to pair the gorgeously textured Mozzarella with such strong flavours. I think I enjoyed it more than my companion who thought the truffle and mushrooms overpowered the cheese. The Chardonnay worked brilliantly with this - it is drinking beautifully with mineral edge reminiscent of fine white Burgundy. The smokiness that comes with careful use of French oak matched surprisingly well with the truffley notes. Our second starter was more classic. Foie Gras parfait with salad of green beans, iberico ham, fresh figs and walnuts. All served with a god wedge of brioche. An assembly job done to perfection. The flavours worked together perfectly like Simon and Garfunkel orFrench and Saunders, and the presentation (foie gras in a pretty little pot) spot on. No photos I'm afraid as it was very dark and I don't like using flash in restaurants as it can be distracting for other diners. You'll see that I got a little braver later when it started to empty...

My main course carried a supplement charge but I was urged by my generous hostess to go 'all out'. So, grouse it was. Roast grouse with fondant potato, blackberries, savoy cabbage and bread sauce. Classic pairings here. I'm not sure that I'd ever eaten grouse before but I am a big fan of game and I'd heard that this year was particularly good for grouse (though not sure whether this means in terms of numbers or in terms of flavour). This was not a dish for the faint hearted. It was seriously gamey and would be too much for some, I think. But I loved it and thought it worked superbly well with the blackberries - the sharpness cutting expertly through the rich meat. The savoy cabbage was divine and the bread sauce I could have eaten straight from the pot on its own. The smell made me think instantly of Christmas. It had been beautifully infused with bay, cloves and onion. The pinot (which on tasting we did decant as it was quite young and a little 'tight' at first) was a great match. My friend's halibut was similarly delicious, if less good with the pinot (which she enjoyed afterwards).

Next stop puddings. For a remarkably reasonable £37.50, you are entitled to three courses (with supplements for certain items such as the grouse and the cheese). You can pay an extra £10 for four courses to include a cheese course. We didn't think we could manage both. My friend is a major cheese fanatic and when she caught sight of the cheese board I thought I might have to physically restrain her from diving straight in before the starters even arrived. Here I did get a picture. Feast on this...

A basket of assorted biscuits arrived with enough biscuits for around 10 people. Slightly baffling. The charming cheese man then helped her select. I think she had about 15 different cheeses, but I could be imagining it. We had indulged on a fair bit of wine by this stage! Quince jelly and a fig and almond slice were delicious accompaniments. I am a pudding person so I had a divine fondant au chocolat with fleur de lait ice cream and honeycomb. It was sheer heaven. The honeycomb a revelation. Rather cruelly, I gobbled it all up leaving not a morsel for my dining companion who had so kindly shared some of her cheese.
The wonderful sommellière suggested an interesting cherry-scented sweet Spanish Mataro to accompany my pud, chocolate being fiendishly hard to match. It worked well and it was good to try something new. It was great to see a young English female in charge of all things vinous on the night. The wine trade is too full of men (I should know, I work in it). It was a refreshing and very welcome change. In fact, the whole experience at Chez Bruce was refreshing. Seriously good food. Faultless service. But completely unpretentious and very relaxed.

Coffee, tea, chocolate truffles and mini palmiers later, we finally left. We weren't quite last. But very nearly.

An epic post for an epic meal. I'm sorry if you feel I've gone on a little long. But hopefully you've got the message. If you haven't been to Chez Bruce. Go.

To sum it up in more concise manner - absolutely brilliant! Thank you, Laura!

Chez Bruce, 2 Bellevue Road, Wandsworth

1 comment:

Trekkie said...

It sounds like you had an amazing meal and a fabulous night.Your pud looks divine. Soooo jealous.