I first ate Bruce Poole’s food when he was in west London, cooking at Max Renzland’s late lamented restaurant Chez Max, which was originally located in Kew before moving to Ifield Road. Mr Poole opened Chez Bruce in 1995, part of the mini empire of Nigel Platts-Martin, who also owns La Trompette, the Glasshouse and set up The Ledbury; The Square, which he used to own, has since changed hands. Chez Bruce is located on a site with considerable London restaurant history. The Wandsworth Common spot was the iconic Harveys from 1987 to 1993, where Marco Pierre White made his reputation. Harveys, incidentally, was also owned by Mr Platts-Martin, who recruited Marco after he spotted his talent when he was cooking at a restaurant called Lampwick’s in Battersea. Eventually he and Marco went their separate ways but Chez Bruce has sailed on in its place for over two decades, picking up a Michelin star along the way. Chez Bruce continues the tried and tested formula of serving appealing, carefully executed dishes with good value wines in a relaxed setting. These days Mr Poole oversees the cooking here and also at Glasshouse and La Trompette. The head chef at Chez Bruce is Matt Christmas, who has worked here since 2000. The dining room looks out over Wandsworth Common, and there is a particularly attractive view of this from the upstairs private dining room.
The menu is £55 in the evening but £35 at lunch for three courses. The wine list is extensive and has some very enjoyable offerings. Examples include Amalaya Bianco de Corte 2016 at £29 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, Two Rivers of Malborough Clos de Pierres Chardonnay 2015 at £58 compared to its retail price of £19, and Francois Cotat Sancerre Les Cuis de Beaujeu 2011 at £100 for a wine that will set you back £39 in the high street. There are a few posher wines too, such as Didier Dagenau Silex 2009 at £185 compared to its retail price of £142, and Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage 2000 at £300 for a wine that will set you back £213 in a shop.
Bread is made from scratch in the kitchen and included sourdough and some soft, fluffy focaccia. There are no amuse-bouches here but we ordered an extra course of white onion soup with gougeres. This was a very comforting autumnal dish, the soup having genuine depth of flavour and a pleasing sweetness from the caramelised onions. The gougeres also had good texture (16/20). A foie gras and chicken liver parfait was gorgeous, velvety smooth in texture and having intense liver flavour. This came with toasted brioche (16/20). I started with a bacon and leek sausage roll with venison loin and Savoy cabbage. The pastry of the roll was fine though the filling seemed a little bland to me; however the cabbage was a logical accompaniment, offsetting the richness of the roll (14/20).
Bombay cauliflower with tomato chutney also came with crisp spiced onions (effectively an onion bhajee) along with yoghurt, peanuts and a garnish of coriander. The pickled cauliflower was very good, the spicing quite gentle (14/20). The dish of the meal was hare loin came with game sausage, red cabbage, creamed spelt, raisins, walnut and bacon. The hare was carefully cooked and had very good flavour, the red cabbage excellent, the walnuts bringing an extra texture and the bacon giving a smoky hint of flavour. This was a lovely, balanced dish (a strong 16/20).
For dessert, pear and almond tart had delicate pastry and pears that were not too sharp (15/20). Tonka bean panna cotta came with caramelised white chocolate, amoretto, puffed rice and maple syrup. The texture of the panna cotta was suitably wobbly and the flavours worked well together (15/20). A new dish being tried out that day was chocolate and hazelnut parfat with creme anglaise. This was excellent, the nuts and chocolate a classic combination, the dark chocolate laced with white chocolate layers and the classic sauce made very well (15/20). Coffee was a brand called Molinari, and it was nice to be presented with a tray of freshly baked shortbread biscuits with the coffee.
Service was good and the bill came to £95 a head including wine. If you ate for dinner and shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per head might come to around £85. This was a very enjoyable meal at a very reliable restaurant. Chez Bruce combines an appealing menu with capable cooking and friendly service at acceptable prices. It is easy to see why it is so popular.