I noted a few days ago that it was the 21st anniversary of Chez Bruce’s opening. For those not in the know (eg those not of a foodie disposition living in London), CB started as a small local brasserie when Wandsworth Common wasn’t quite as leafy or as well-heeled as it is now. Now it’s bigger and grander, as many of us get as we get older and put on weight. Like CB however, I hope I manage to retain a lightness of touch.
CB has been given all sorts of accolades that it wears fairly lightly. It’s also been the place the various different Blewers have chosen to mark important dates, or celebrate something. The food is worthy of a great celebration. Outstanding old fashioned technique and an understanding of gastronomic history are combined with some surprisingly modern consideration.
First and foremost, the food is outstanding. Given all those accolades, such as a Michelin star, it should be; but I’ve been over 20 times and have never, ever, thought anything other than “wow” when contemplating the food. The familiar (my favourite chicken / fois gras starter) is mixed with experimental, but it all delivers on flavour, finesse, but above all, comfort.
This thing for me about CB. It is deeply comfortable. So many “destination” restaurants feel like being in church. I once made a loud and frankly filthy joke in a Ramsay place because I couldn’t stand the hushed silence. There’s no need in CB, as there’s always a nice hum of happy chatter.
Given it’s antecedents and the local punters, this is perhaps not surprising, but take the standard of the food, then consider the sort of food that it is (rich / flavoured / filling), and then add genuinely warm and personable service; it’s not surprising we all seem ever so slightly smug to be there.
It doesn’t have to be this good. There are hundreds of restaurants in well heeled parts of London that have good food and smart staff that haven’t made it. Racine was a kindred spirit to CB. Whisper it, the food might have been just a fraction better on occasion. But Knightsbridge changed and it went the way of the dodo. So what is it about CB that has helped it last the test of time?
Location is always important. You don’t have to drive to get there as its right on a good train line. It’s also benefited from the gentrification of what was already quite a nice area in the first place. However for me, the main thing is that it is comitted to making every single person that comes into CB feel great.
There’s the top quality content that is almost unrivalled at the price point. Lovely bread etc. Interesting beer. Outstanding food. A wine list that should have evangelists it’s so long (but don’t worry, the team are imaginative and sensitive). Then there’s the people. CB has always had brilliant, engaging, friendly staff that give advice if asked and don’t push if they don’t.
I think my point is that CB is run and staffed by people that understand the concept behind the industry: “hospitality”. Treat guests as you would wish to be treated: with humour and grace and intelligence, and make sure they are fed well.
Frankly I wish I could get this at home, but with 2 small kids and both my wife and I working full time, this is a fantasy. CB therefore is the fantasy of being at home, and for that, and for 20 years of genuine pleasure, I thank all involved.