I had been wanting to try Chez Bruce for a few years. An Australian friend who bought a place in Balham had raved about it, but I never much liked travelling anywhere near Balham and Wandsworth seemed even further away. The few times I tried to book, mostly at very short notice, I was not lucky enough to reserve a table. On Saturday my partner took me to Chez Bruce to celebrate my birthday (she booked well in advance and did not let me know where we were going), a birthday which I was not overly chuffed about celebrating owing to its fairly high number. Chez Bruce was full of middle-aged, well-to-do types, most of whom appeared to have skipped down to the restaurant from their nearby homes around Wandsworth Common. The room was pleasantly buzzing with lots of small tables, including the many tables for two where both diners had the good fortune of staring into the room - much more fun than into or away from each other's direct gaze. The room has an air of calm about it, which comes from the genuine competence and friendliness of the staff here. Smiling waiters and sommeliers with amusing anecdotes and who appear to be enjoying themselves in Michelin Star restaurants are, in my experience, quite rare.
Chez Bruce only does a fixed price menu: three courses for 37 quid or three courses and cheese for 47 quid. The food is modern French and shows a real lightness of touch - a bit Paris meets Arbutus. For starters I had the fillet of mackerel with chorizo and a grape vinaigrette. My partner had a foie gras parfait with a salad of green beens, iberico ham and figs. The mackerel was good, the oiliness of the fish and the chorizo well cut by the acidity of the grapes. The foie gras was exceptional - light and ethereal with oodles of flavour - and I scampered about my partner's dish like a wolf, not being able to touch the mackerel before all the foie gras had dissolved on our tongues. We enjoyed the starters with a half bottle of the 1990 Wachenheimer Grumpel Dr Burkenwolf Riesling from Pfalz, Germany. This was quite beautifully evolved with layers of petrol, still crisp citrus fruit, a hint of sweetness but with high acidity - both of which worked nicely with the foie gras - and was great value at about 25 quid.
For mains, we shared the cote de boeuf with hand cut chips. The meat was tender and tasty and served on what appeared to be a full flavoured veal/beef jus. Despite these chips not sneaking into the top 50 in Time Out's recent Best Chips in London Award, these easily surpassed those of the lucky winner, Comptoir Gascon (tasted three weeks' ago). The chips were gorgeously crisp on the outside, pillow-like on the inside and were polished of well before we came close to finishing the cote de boeuf. A brilliant and simple course, which did everything we expected of it and more. We tried a bottle of the 1999 Bodegas San Pedro de Yacochuga Malbec from Cafayate, Argentina to accompany the boeuf. Neither of us enjoyed this wine, a heavy, inky 15% monster (even by Rolland's standards) that had an unpleasant licorice aftertaste, and was overpriced at about 90 quid.
Prior to dessert we ordered a half bottle of the 1995 Helmut Lang Samling 88 Trockenbeerenauslese from Neusiedlerse, Austria, from the exceptional sweet wine list. This was an inspired choice, oily, unctuous and laced with orange peel and rich tropical fruit, although very rich on top of what was already a very rich meal. It worked perfectly with the orange and saffron panna cotta with Contreau and was great value at about 30 quid.
More generally on the wine list, it is long - 40 odd pages - with a decent selection of old world and new world wines at reasonable mark-ups. There is also a good selection of interesting half bottles (e.g. the 1990 Pfalz Riesling) and wines from lesser known regions and grapes (e.g. the much underrated assyrtiko from Santorini) at good prices. The list also contains a few sherries, including the delightful La Gitana Manzanilla, which at about 20 quid is superb value and very difficult to go past.
I can't wait to go back.