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 was 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 this evening (16/20 average, more for the sourdough).
My starter of Cornish mackerel was served with lightly spiced chickpea sauce, 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 (14/20). 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 (16/20 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 (16/20). 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 14/20)..
Fortunately the pastry section was firing on all cylinders, with excellent classical crème brulee having crisp top and rich vanilla filling (16/20), while passion fruit sorbet had smooth texture and deep flavour, served with good tuiles and an excellent warm Madeleine (16/20).
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 15/20 meal.