The past 24 months saw the pandemic and Brexit combine to create a perfect maelstrom of crap for the hospitality industry to deal with. They came in like two massive bulls in our delicate little china shop and knocked seven bells out of everything. There were a lot of casualties. Some, more widely known, such as The Ledbury and Langan’s have been revived, albeit with mixed results, and some have been consigned to the pages of restaurant history (RIP Terroirs, Roganic, Two Lights, Kym’s and so many more).
A casualty of the past two years that had a little less attention though has been, in my humble opinion, one of the great fixtures of the south-west London dining scene of the past 25 years. A service plucked from the pages of history and maintained in splendour by dutiful custodians. I speak of course of the cheese trolley formerly found at 2 Bellevue Road SW17 – aka Chez Bruce.
This was a trolley of great renown, boasting innumerable fromages from both the finest French producers to a latter movement that lent towards home grown Great British cheese. Sadly, due to recent woes, the restaurant simply hasn’t had the quantity of floor staff needed to deliver this luxury in the way that does it justice.
What Chez Bruce does so brilliantly is exude a freer iteration of French fine-dining
The team at Chez Bruce are generally wonderful and if they are a bit thin on the ground, you would never know it. Our main waitresses are two Portuguese cousins, who we speak to at great length about our love of the Iberian Peninsula. I did lament, however, that our earlier waiter during the evening didn’t quite possess the same warmth. At one relatively simple question about the menu (which dish of two might he suggest) he sighed, as if we had just asked him for some money, or perhaps a limb, said nothing and shrugged like a teenager. It was an awkward 10 or so seconds as his hefty shoulders returned to their neutral position and I, speechless, turned to my better half with mouth agog. She deftly moved the conversation with our shrugger back onto firmer ground.
Thoughts quickly turned from that bizarre encounter to the excellent cooking and our meal began with some delicate little parmesan crisps. These morsels preceded a masterclass in the classics that is found at only a handful of restaurants in town and even fewer within this price point. Lobster raviolo with brown butter shrimp and bisque sauce was every bit as decadent and rich as it sounds. Devilled lamb’s kidneys with crispy fried tongue was too an old-school haute cuisine sucker punch of flavour. This kind of classic French cooking is just so unfashionable these days it’s bordering on the comical to feast on them so blatantly here.
For mains there are usually seven or so different options, but for anyone ploughing this course through the classics, there really is only one choice. An ode to Pierre Koffmann. An homage to the grandeur of restaurants like La Tante Claire or Harveys; pig’s trotter, cooked in red wine, stuffed with chicken mousse, morel mushrooms and sweetbreads. It sounds lavish, ostentatious and completely out of place in 2022 where everything is modern, British, seasonal and vegan. This plate, this exceptional dish, is the glorious antithesis to all of that. It’s a stonking great big middle finger to the ‘trends’ of the day. Chef Matt Christmas has not fallen into the trap of modernising, adapting or even bastardising Koffmann’s famously difficult to execute signature dish, he just delivers it to the best of his substantial abilities, with an irresistible outcome.
As the aforementioned cheese trolley is still MIA, a comically large cheese plate arrives in its stead. Once again, the team here know what they are doing. They don’t mess about with three, five or even seven cheeses. No, no, dear reader, you’ll enjoy a whopping eleven delicious cheeses to sample, in a sort of cartoonish celebration of gluttony.
There is an added level of formality, and let’s be frank, expense, to restaurants in this ballpark, such as Le Gavroche. What Chez Bruce does so brilliantly though, is exude a freer iteration of French fine-dining, with a buzzy neighbourhood dining room that should be the envy of every restaurateur in town.
2 Bellevue Road
by Mike Daw