Chez Bruce, London
A long-standing cliché used to be that you judged Chinese or Indian restaurants by the amount of Chinese or Indian people eating in them, which ignored a number of markers, including the possibility that the chef and/or owners may simply have had a large family.
A better indicator is where chefs eat, and a staple every year in such lists is Chez Bruce – an honest and moderately sophisticated brasserie, and long-time holder of a Michelin star. For this, my last regular restaurant column for Decanter, my 2006 Restaurant of the Year seemed an appropriate venue for a curtain call.
The place has form, of course: Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay launched from here when it was Harvey’s, and Bruce Poole, who took over, was originally part of the legendary brigade at Bibendum that included Simon Hopkinson and half a dozen other of the UK’s best chefs. Poole was also a serious wine lover, and encouraged his sommeliers, who soared. (So did the neighbourhood: what was once a two-block stretch of rundown shops fronting Wandsworth Common is now a smart row of eight restaurants, an art gallery and a few clothing retailers I can’t afford.)
The ambience is as straightforward as the cooking, light and cheery, heightened by an impressive collection of attractive modern paintings and amiable staff. A glance at the menu leaves no doubt as to where the kitchen’s coming from: duck leg ragout, chicken ballotine, fillet of plaice with mussels and onions in cider, sea bream with fennel choucroute– all promise ample flavours deeply rooted in the sunny side of memory.
On my visit, the venison loin with spiced carrot and sauce poivrade, and a plump and tender confit rabbit leg with coco-bean stew, ham and garlic croutons were deliciously evocative. On another visit, côte de boeuf with béarnaise sauce and hand-cut chips, partnered with a hearty Domaine Raspail-Ay from Gigondas was robustly affirmative fare for a grey day. ‘There’ll always be a good market for French-based cooking, because it’s so bloody good,’ Poole once remarked, and the point is still emphatically made here.
The wine list has the same sort of depth, but more breadth. France is ahead by a nose, with Italy close behind, and Australia very much in the running, but most of the rest of the wine world is represented as well. Two dozen by the glass include a Bodegas Acustic Montsant blend and 2009 Peter Lehmann Semillon, as well as a Coravin fine-wine rotation. Some 36 half-bottles include Ridge, Gaja and several serious bargains, and there are genuinely mature wines from everywhere, at reasonable prices. The wine list is 38 pages long, a road map to pleasure, well worth a good perusal. Download it from the restaurant website in advance and enjoy the ride.
2 Bellevue Road, London SW17 7EG
Tel: +44 (0)20 8672 0114; www.chezbruce.co.uk
Open for lunch and dinner daily