The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

May 9, 2009

Fifth Decade

The other day I entered my fifth decade yowling and scratching, and the wife decided that the only way for the caterwauling to subside was to stuff me silly with good food, and she carted me off to Chez Bruce. Could there be a finer eatery in Wandsworth? Perhaps, perhaps. But I doubt it.

Those who follows these matters know that Bruce Poole took over the failing Harvey's Restaurant, which used to be run by Marco Pierre White. That worthy was known for fine food, insolence and a short temper. Didn't he once chuck an MP out of the restaurant for criticising his cooking? Well, anyway, Bruce Poole is a much more genial individual, and his Michelin star has not given him airs. His staff are welcoming and cheerful, and even a process such as choosing the right wine for each course is not too traumatic. All of which, it goes without saying, means that I can pig out contentedly and not cower under a waiter's disdain.

The restaurant offers three-course lunches for £32.50, (add a tenner if you want the cheese board) which is eminently reasonable until one realises that the wine costs extra, and the average price per glass is about £8. Had it not been my birthday we were celebrating, we'd have definitely asked for tap water instead of the bottled variety at £3.50 a pop, although, really, when one is shelling out big bucks for everything else, the added cost of the water is quite marginal. Still, it's the principle of it, you know. Gouging the customer? Just like the outrageous prices charged for a local call at your average hotel. Pfft.

Anyway. Chez Bruce presents haute cuisine French-style. It's not exactly French, but it is delightfully subtle nevertheless. We started with a glass of champagne (Ayala Brut Majeure, £10.50 a pop), blinking slightly at the price.

While we sipped daintily at the flutes, we surreptitiously gaped at the other diners. A rollicking party of octogenarians guffawed its way through course after course and manifold bottles of wine at the table behind us. A courting couple sat on either side of us. There were no kids to be seen, despite a strategically placed high-chair I caught a glimpse of at one point.

The maître d' approached gingerly to ask if we were interested in learning about the specialities available. The wife muttered something about being a vegetarian, whereupon he glowed as though a carbon-arc light had exploded inside him. "Ah, you are in for a treat," he intoned. "The mozzarella. Ah, the mozzarella. Imported just this morning from Italy."

"Yes, yes," said the wife.

"And the spinach pastilla," he went on, rapturously flaring his nostrils. "It's like a samosa but the resemblance ends there. And it comes with İmambayıldı. Do you...?"

"Yes, yes," said the wife. "The imam fainted."

The man looked like he might expire of ecstasy at that moment. Such a knowledgeable guest, went the thought through his mind. Then he looked at me and frowned. I sat up and closed my mouth.

After much consideration, I went for the staple starter. Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait with Toasted Brioche.

"Of course, sir," said the
maître d', no doubt stunned at my lack of imagination.

The sommelier hovered around helpfully.

The usual tipple to go with foie gras is a Sauterne, a sweetish dessert wine from the Sauternais region of Bordeaux. A very acceptable alternative, however, is a Jurançon, and the 2006 vintage appears to have been a particularly fine one. I asked for it, and I got it, and it immediately wiped out all the sickeningly cloying memories I've had of dessert wines from Napa that an old friend of mine once inflicted upon me years ago. A Suprême de Thou from the Clos Thou of Henri Lapuble-Laplace (the mathematic in me perked up at that last name, of course), wonderfully mellow, chilled, with hints of this and that, and possibly something else as well.

For some reason, the waiter confused our wine order with a neighbour's, and had to beat a hasty retreat full of apologies.

The wife is not known as a heavy drinker, half a glass of white rendering her dozy and a full glass knocking her out for weeks on end, so she stuck to her choice of a white throughout the meal. It was a little-known wine from Sardinia, a Terlaner Classico, but I ignored it, having decided to concentrate entirely on the plonk that was shortly to come my way. She started with a dish of Buffalo mozzarella with marinated red peppers, new season’s garlic croûton, aubergines and basil. Life in France for a vegetarian is undoubtedly tough, but Bruce did very well for the grass-eater. The mozzarella was softer than a cloud, the peppers were nicely slinky, the aubergine just so. The wife couldn't stop grinning thereafter. (It might, of course, have been the wine too.)

A companionable half-an-hour later, the starters were cleared, and the main courses came in, trailing a wake of heavenly odours and the sound of drool hitting the floor. The wife got her Spinach and chick pea pastilla with spiced aubergine salad, greek yoghurt, almonds and coriander, while I feasted my eyes on the Choucroute of pork, confit belly boudin blanc, blanquette sauce and chervil. Ooh, yum. Did I say 'yum'? Well, I say it again. YUM. Swine flu or not, these particular beasts had died a splendid death, they were so sweet and meltingly soft and delicate. I had no idea that a choucroute was the Alsatian equivalent of the sauerkraut, but I've never had cabbage done as well as this. I switched from the boudin blanc to the choucroute and back again, and man, oh, man, each bite was better than the last. I was concentrating on the textures and tastes so deeply that I didn't hear the sommelier extol the wonders of the next wine he offered me, which, it now turns out, was a Côtes du Ventoux
. It was a snappy little thing, though, with body and neck, and, what the heck, who am I kidding? Clearly I have no future as a wine critic.

Our little chap was safely tucked away at home with a babysitter, naturally, while we pigged out, and we were filled with that delicious feeling that arises from the knowledge that we had all of 4 hours entirely to ourselves. Our reservation had been for 14:00, a bit late usually for us, but because it was so late, we could sit for as long as we liked. The only other slot that was available when the wife had called had been at 12:00, and we'd have had to vacate the table within 2 hours. This way, we were in clover. So we continued to sit and grin and eat and drink and anticipate quite eagerly the dessert.

That's when we noticed that the courting couples and the octogenarians were all getting a dessert with a candle stuck in it. It then dawned upon us that we were not the only birthday celebrants; half the restaurant appeared to share the date of my naissance.

"I don't want a freakin' waxy stick on my pudding," I whispered fiercely to the wife , just in time to prevent her calling the waiter.

And what a fine chocolate pudding it was, too. Hot chocolate pudding with praline parfait, messieurs et mesdames, I kid you not. (Two parfaits at one meal? Excellent...) And unlike the overly sweet and scant chocolate puddings that one is fed at other venues, this was rich chocolate, dense and viscid, voluptuous and vivid. The parfait coruscated. The wife suddenly wanted a piece of it, ignoring the rather sumptuous crepe with chocolate Valrhona that she had ordered. Generously, I let her have a sniff.

Indeed, kids and gents, and ladies, one doesn't turn 40 every day, or even every other day. This was a good day to achieve that eminence. We left satiated, £135 lighter, tummies immeasurably fuller, our spirits sunnier and cheerier.


Veena said...

Congratulations on getting to the fifth etc.

While the Chez Bruce experience sounds heavenly, I hope this is in addition to and not replacement for island-hopping in the Mediterranean. After all as you say a man doesn't turn 40 every other day, or even every other year.

Space Bar said...

happy happy! that sounds like a meal made in heaven.

were you all nasty to angad, telling him what he missed? will he sleep dreaming of food he might have had?

Fëanor said...

Veena: Thanks, I say. Island-hopping is a bit of a pipe-dream as there are rumbles of layoffs to be announced by June. Uske baad dekha jayega, heh.

SB: Thanks! Angad wasn't much concerned, truth be told. But I heard him shout in his sleep that he can't do it, he can't sing.

Szerelem said...

Happy birthday!!! Belated and everything but still...

And god, I am so hungry now...
Also, what is this about island hopping in the Med?

Fëanor said...

Szerelem: thanks and that. The Med plan was to go to Greece, a few islands there, then head to Turkey and go overland to Syria. Then all the job jitters began anew, so we're holding off for now.

Shefaly said...

Belated Happy Birthday. Sorry I missed wishing on the real day (this in spite of having asked you the date).

More layoffs? You sure you are owned by les Belgiques and not by the Scots?

Fëanor said...

Shefaly: cheers, I say! Yup, those Walloons sure had their claws into us, and now the Frenchies have.

Dutchie said...

Congrats Fëanor ! In some cultures they would call it being king for a day ... n u did lunched like an emperor to boot - hehe.

I was thinking abt films like No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones n Aaron Eckhart, among others that I hv seen. Just wondered if Nina n urself do watch food related films ?

Fëanor said...

Dutchie: thanks! Movies with food, eh? I recall one with a Hispanic chef dad and his daughters, and what was that, Chocolat? There was one French film in which the guests, all intellectuals, invite a rather simple chap to dinner, to basically make fun of him, and somehow he turns the tables on them. As you can see, I'm terrible with names... Haven't seen the one you mention, though. Reviews are not too positive?

Dutchie said...

Ah yes, Chocolat with Juliette Binoche who churns out bonbons with aphrodisiac qualities ! Johnny Depp was his usual scruffy self as skipper of a leaky boat - haha. I do like all his films btw.

Louis de Funés played in a film as a food critic who was stuffed nearly to death bec he dared critize. That was one nauseous film - uhh !

Some films do focus on food or cakes that would make u drool - hehe. The romance is just a bonus for the (female)viewers :-)

There was a chinese film titled "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" - yes, it's rather lame but the chef showed so many yummy dishes that I wished it would go on n on !

Besides films, I also enjoyed watching TV chefs. The recipes r hard to emulate but it helps to inspire an otherwise burnt-out cook like me.

Do u give Nina a hand or some days off from the kitchen ? Mine would hv 10 plausible reasons why he just couldnt *sigh*

Fëanor said...

Ah, if you like food in film, perhaps you'll like food in books as well. Check out this blog and this one (mine)

Fëanor said...

And you might find this essay very useful in deciding which foodie film you'll watch next.

Dutchie said...

Oh my, what a gastronomic treasure u r handling over to me - many thanks Fëanor :-)

I hv it marked as Favourites. Hope that it would rain this weekend n set the mood for a long leisure read, with me warmly curled up on the couch with the laptop n be transported to another place in time !

Post a Comment