This week is all about the food, more than it is about the design of the restaurant. That is not to say that the interior of Chez Bruce is not nice - because it is - but it is not striving for originality or attracting diners by being shiny and trendy and nor does it need to – it is a classic.
Chez Bruce in Wandsworth Common is a Michelin-starred French fine dining restaurant that is widely considered to be one of, if not the best restaurant South of the river - an area that is fairly short on stand-out restaurants.
It is a modest restaurant that is pleasingly unpretentious. It is not showy; instead it is a quality restaurant offering consistently good food, which perches rather inconspicuously on the edge of Wandsworth Common. It is surrounded by a line of clothes shops, coffee shops and a couple of other neighbourhood restaurants.
Being quite local, we visited on a Sunday for a family get together and enjoyed walking across the common to lunch.
As soon as we entered the restaurant we were greeted by smiling, polite staff and felt the buzz of the dining room. From outside, the full capacity of the restaurant was hidden behind mid-height heavy white curtains adding privacy within. Inside the large ground floor dining room (there is another dining room at first floor) was brimming with large groups of young professionals enjoying the wine list, couples and families (no children). The atmosphere was great, everyone was laughing and talking loudly - it was very relaxed and informal - the perfect place for a long Sunday lunch.
The dining room itself is light, elegant and understated, with white table cloths, a wooden floor, dark bistro-style wooden chairs and white walls decorated with a little art work. It felt modern and fresh and again unpretentious.
There were a lot of staff who were kept constantly busy. Despite this service was quite slow - it was almost an hour before we had our starters. It was nice to be left alone in a restaurant of this ranking and personally I enjoyed the leisurely and unrushed approach; 4 hours for lunch on a Sunday is how it should be. Others in our group of 6, however, were slightly less pleased and obviously hungrier.
Whilst we waited we were given an appetiser - a little melt-in-the-mouth cheese biscuit, which was so moreish.
Then came the tasty selection of breads, good breads, rosemary focaccia, sourdough and olive bread.
When the starters eventually arrived they were worth the wait. I ordered the chickpea pastilla with stuffed aubergines, pickled cauliflower on a bed of creamy houmous. Not what you would necessarily expect to find on a French menu, but it was really enjoyable. Everything was really well balanced, spiced and very tasty. It was a very good starter - quite light and different. Our table also ordered the curried parsnip soup, (which I have on good authority was a real stand-out dish); the ox cheek with curry flavourings and an oriental salad; and a cod brandade with poached eggs, an anchovy hollandaise and samphire. There was harmonious satisfaction with the starters.
The wine from the extensive wine list went down very well as we chatted away and waited another 40 minutes for our mains. By now the noise level in the restaurant had risen even more and it was nice to be surrounded by others also clearly having a good time.
My main was also very good - I fear I am going to run out of superlatives! It was delicate but tasty and, as I suspected when it was placed in front of me, left room for me to contemplate the amazing dessert menu - trying desperately to choose between the treats on offer.
The main I chose was roasted cod with truffle mash, hazelnut and parsley dressing, leeks, salsify and wild mushrooms. It all went together so well and individually everything was cooked to perfection. Luckily I am not a steak-lover and so was probably the only person around our table who didn't slightly envy the pink chateaubriand with stuffed mushrooms, celeriac, hand-cut chips and a peppercorn sauce on our table, directly opposite me. It did look impressive and what's more, it seems at Chez Bruce you are not asked how you would like your steak cooked - you are given your steak cooked in the way that the accomplished Chefs think best - medium rare. I am reassured that is was delicious.
Onto the dessert menu and the decision was tough. They all sounded so amazing- they are known to do a perfect Crème Brûlée...and who doesn't love a perfect Crème Brûlée? In the end though after a long decision, I plumped for the pear and almond tarte with a large scoop of clotted cream. I am very pleased I did as it was fantastic and not too sweet. Again, all desserts looked beautiful and were a hit.
After dessert we ordered coffees which came with a heavenly truffles and we were also offered shortbread which was a nice touch. I obviously accepted both!
The meal was great, we all really enjoyed it and the atmosphere of the restaurant was one of the best - it made it really enjoyable. The lunch menu was a set menu and was £35 for three courses excluding coffee - which is very reasonable for a Michelin-starred restaurant.
It is a great restaurant that makes you feel welcome and offers really tasty food. Despite being a London-wide hit, it still manages to feel like a neighbourhood restaurant and now that I have been and am close by I look forward to treating it as my local.