In the old premise of the legendary Harveys (Marco Pierre White’s original restaurant) Bruce Poole, who used to cook at Chez Max in its glory days, brings fine cooking to a part of London that needs it. The small dining room looks out on to Wandsworth common, and now that Bruce runs the place rather than Marco, diners need no longer live in terror of arriving ten minutes late. His British cooking brings punchy flavours together with high quality ingredients and consistent execution. The wine list has a good range of growers e.g Mas de Daumas Gassac, JJ Prum, Guigal etc. It is simply the best restaurant in South London.
Notes from my most recent meal in April 2011 follow.
The new, larger dining room at Chez Bruce feels much more comfortable, with the tables less crammed in than in the past. The menu continues to be the appealing modern British dishes that Nigel Platts Martin’s restaurant deliver, which partly accounts for their enduring appeal. £45 buys you three courses, with coffee at £3.95.
The wine list is extensive, with 750 different wines available. Fries Vineyard Semillon l’Ecol no 41 vintage 2006 was £31 for a wine that retails at £17, and the rare Kistler Les Noisetiers 2008 was a reasonable £115 for a wine that costs £59 to buy, while Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was £119 for a wine that costs £38 in the shops. For those with the means there are serious wines too: Ducru Beacaulliou 1982 was priced at £440 for a bottle that will set you back £265 in the shops, while Margaux 1989 was £900 compared to a shop price of around £365. We drank Bonny Doon Cigare Blanc 2007 at £46 for a wine that retails at £15. Breads are now all home made here, with good granary, nice focaccia but particularly good sourdough (6/10 average, more for the sourdough).
My starter of Cornish mackerel was served with lightly spiced chickpea sauce (that would be a cholay), crisp shallots with yoghurt and coriander. I really liked the idea of this dish, the chickpeas were tender and the yoghurt is an ideal foil to the delicate spice, but the dish was let down by surprisingly tasteless mackerel (4/10). Better was tuna grilled rare and served Nicoise style with a with fennel puree and anchovy beignet. The tuna was light seared and the vegetables nicely cooked, the only sub-standard element being a rather chewy beignet (6/10 despite this).
For the main course, I really enjoyed my pork dish, a combination of fillet and belly, the latter carefully prepared and having good texture, the pork (also from Cornwall) having excellent flavour. This was served with little Jersey royals, peas and broad beans, wild garlic and thyme, and was carefully seasoned (6/10). However salmon with olive oil mash, Provencale tomato and gremolata had good mash and nice vegetables, but the farmed salmon (despite being supplied by the usually excellent Forman in east London) was tasteless, and also lacked seasoning (barely 4/10)..
Fortunately the pastry section was firing on all cylinders, with excellent classical crème brulee having crisp top and rich vanilla filling (6/10), while passion fruit sorbet had smooth texture and deep flavour, served with good tuiles and an excellent warm Madeleine (6/10).
The bill came to £91 a head, with a bottle of wine between two and a single glass of dessert wine. Service was excellent throughout. Although Bruce Poole was not present in the kitchen I did not have any issue with the technical aspects of the cooking, but to have both fish dishes let down by mediocre products was rather disappointing. Given the many good meals here over the years I will leave the overall score unchanged for now, but tonight was really only a 5/10 meal.
The notes below are from a meal in January 2008.
The site seems to be bursting at the seams, and they have somehow crammed in three rows of tables into the limited space. Getting into your seat was like one of those children’s puzzles where you have to shift a block around by reshuffling many others. Fortunately service under David O'Connor is slick and friendly. The menu is fairly appealing, with nine starters and the same number of main courses, modern British in style. There are no amuse bouche, and bread is a choice of either white or poilane-style slices. The white bread is pleasantly seasoned and has good texture, while the poilane is rather ordinary (4/10 bread overall, the home-made white being better than the brown).
I began with smoked eel on a base of pickled beetroot, alongside which was a crab pancake with horseradish, with pea shoots to garnish. The eel was very good, the beetroot was an earthy foil to the distinctive taste of the eel. The crab pancake was pleasant though for me needed more crab, and the horseradish gave a pleasant spiciness that lifted the dish (6/10). Breast of guinea fowl was good, tender and cooked about right, though the texture of the potato gnocchi were a little over-soft, but the accompanying artichokes were excellent. This was served with good buttered cabbage and pears, which sounds odd but worked OK (6/10 if I ignore the gnocchi).
Cheese, from Fromagerie and Neals Yard, was in good condition e.g. a ripe Munster (6/10). The dish that let the meal down was syllabub with blood orange jelly and macaroons. The syllabub was over-creamy, badly lacking in acidity to balance the cream, while the macaroons were extremely soggy in texture (1/10). Other desserts tried by my companions seemed very good e.g. roast spiced pineapple with Jamaican ginger cake and coconut sorbet, which tasted 6/10 level to me. Service was excellent and the wine list here is always a delight.
Here are notes from a meal in April 2007, by way of comparison.
Stella’s salad of pea shoots and baby gem heart with a pea puree and ricotta featured pleasant fresh leaves with a little balsamic vinegar, but was not a patch on the salad at Zafferano I had two nights ago (barely 5/10).
Better was quail pithivier, two pieces of quail wrapped in pastry and served with a shallot puree, mushroom duxelle and an excellent reduction of red wine, thick and full of flavour (6/10). For main course, lemon sole was served as fillets with a rather tasteless scallop mousse in between the fillets, shellfish feuilette (small prawns with a little pastry) with a few mussels, some samphire and a pleasant beurre blanc flavoured with chives. The fish was cooked correctly but the scallop mousse was bland (5/10). I fared better with duck cassoulet, featuring tender haricot beans, braised bacon, a miniature Savoy cabbage stuffed with duck, a small fan of duck slices and a little salsa verde. Perhaps there was one flavour too many here, but the duck was good and the earthy flavours benefitted from the subtle salsa verde (6/10).
For dessert honeycomnb ice cream was nicely made, served with very good tuiles (5/10). Slightly better was a millefeuille of chocolate and pistachio with a few griottine cherries; the chocolate was high grade valrhona chocolate and the dish worked well (6/10). Coffee was pleasant (5/10) though a sugar pastry offered with it was actually hard and dry. Service was generally good, with one or two topping up lapses but friendly and attentive. Overall the meal was just about 6/10, but only just. Ingredients were pleasant but not top drawer e.g. the rather ordinary salad leaves, though execution was generally capable. They are applying for planning permission to extend the dining room into the next door shop; if this happens it will be done during August 2007. Prices are £37.50 for three courses, with a £10 supplement for cheese. Coffee is extra at £3.50.
10/01/2008 - Rod ()
|Dined at Chez Bruce Monday 7th January 2008. Ambiance is pleasant enough, but with tables a little too closely spaced. Salad gourmande with foie gras, smoked duck, Iberico ham, green beans and hazel nuts was well executed, if not particularly well presented (5/10). Roast foie gras with Stornaway black pudding, caramelised apple and grain mustard was excellent; interesting flavours working well together without being overly fussy (6/10). The £4 supplement for this second dish was mildly irritating given the relatively small offering of fois gras, but can just about be forgiven when the overall price of the menu is considered (£37.50).
Grilled halibut with Jerusalem artichoke purée, potato gnocchi and prosciutto was only good (4-5/10). One portion (we both chose this under recommendation from the waiter) was on the dry side, but even accepting this the dish didn't come together as a whole. The halibut is served on a bed of mushrooms whose earthy flavours nicely balanced the meaty flavour of the halibut. Scallops and artichoke purée (which was superb) worked well, but were present in miserly quantity. However, the gnocchi, and, especially, prosciutto were simply afterthoughts, serving only to complicate the dish without any benefit. Again, this could not be described as an attractive dish.
Roast spiced pineapple with Jamaican ginger cake and coconut sorbet was solid, perhaps a shade too sweet (5/10). Chocolate fondant with ice cream and honeycomb was again a little too sweet; the small sphere of ice cream not being enough to balance the stream of warm chocolate that filled the entire plate as soon as the fondant was breached (5/10). The desserts were both very well presented it should be noted.
Service was efficient, but possibly not as warm as some would like (we were only asked how our meal was when the bill was presented). The marked exception was the excellent Sommelier, who recommended wines at a selection of price levels and was incredibly amiable. Our choice (£25 for a half bottle) complimented the halibut extremely well and was reasonably priced (retails at around £8-10).
Overall, a sound meal at a restaurant deserving its Michelin star, but, similar to its sister in Kew (The Glasshouse), not yet showing signs of chasing a second. At under £130 for 2, Chez Bruce does offer excellent value for money. A solid 5/10.