On a cold Friday in January, I started 2020 as I mean to go on: spending quality time with friends who are dear to me. On this occasion, I was with Alison, an old friend from my days at John Lewis, who had a big birthday in the latter part of last year. We decided to leave our celebration to a time when we would most appreciate it most. We chose Chez Bruce for the occasion.
Whenever I have a reservation in the diary at Chez Bruce, it shines out with a beacon of joyful anticipation. In all the years I have been going there, I have rarely had a bad experience. The food, service and an ambience that oozes quality but is in no way stuffy, all combine to deliver an experience that is hard to match. To manage this in the short term is a challenge that many others have been unable to meet. To manage it consistently over 25 years is exceptional. How lucky are we to have it on our doorstep?!
As I settle down at the table I always appreciate the crisp white linen, the quality glassware and the sparkling silverware. I am soon distracted though by the melt-in-your-mouth, and often still warm, parmesan bisuits. Yum.
The menu changes with the seasons although there are always some old favourites. I remember as a buyer having best selling products that I desperately wanted to ‘move forward’, but the customer voted with her feet by continuing to buy them in numbers too large to ignore.
I am that customer in Chez Bruce. The dish in question is their wonderful cod. It is so incredibly fresh and well-cooked that it falls apart and melts in the mouth. Over the years I can see them trying to update it as I did, but actually all I want is the original: the softest of pommes puree, and perfectly cooked vegetables with just enough crunch. As soon as the menu arrives my first thought is whether or not it will be there!
This time I started with a salad of avocado and enoki mushrooms with cashews, lime and coriander. It was fabulous. The flavours were so subtle and yet each of them shone through in their own right. Alison had the curried parsnip soup topped with crisp spiced onions which she said was equally good.
As my cod dish (pictured) was undergoing an update that didn’t appeal, I went instead for a salmon with a herb crust, pureed cauliflower and grapes. It was really good and the flavour of the salmon was quite unlike anything you can buy in the shops. A lovely crisp glass of Gruner Veltliner to go with, some great conversation, and I was a happy lady.
Two courses were more than enough for both of us but I always gaze longingly at the extensive cheeseboard that sits majestically at the front of the restaurant. Like the cod, it has been part of the Chez Bruce experience from the beginning. Ask the waiters and they can talk you knowledgeably through the various sections and the origins of each cheese.
We contented ourselves with a coffee and sat and chatted. Even though service was coming to end, we did not feel rushed. I would hate to add up the number of times I have been the last in the restaurant but it’s such a civilised way to spend an afternoon. It never feels like the right time to bring it to a close.
The Chez Bruce experience is hard to put in to words. Before I go it gives me something special to work towards. When I am there it makes me feel cossetted and full of gratitude that I am able to experience it. After I have left, the memories live on and I can’t wait until the next opportunity.
I do hope that Chez Bruce will be around for another 25 years. Wandsworth common would not be the same without it!
Do you love it as much as I do?