Star Quality at Chez Bruce
Chantal Borciani goes behind the kitchen pass with head chef Matt Christmas at Michelin star restaurant, Chez Bruce
After almost two decades at Chez Bruce, few people know the inner workings of Wandsworth’s Michelin star restaurant better than head chef Matt Christmas. A restaurant that has largely eschewed media opportunities, Matt and owner Bruce Poole have let the exceptional food and service at Chez Bruce do the talking. Here, the head chef lifts the veil on his Michelin success, what inspires him and why he feels it’s important the revered Wandsworth restaurant stays true to its roots…
How would you describe Chez Bruce?
I always think it’s sort of polished home cooking. It’s food people like to eat. I think we just want to look after people really well. If people want seconds, I’ll give them some.
You’ve said your kitchen isn’t a scary Michelin kitchen, how so?
There’s not a lot of ego here. It’s just sensible and grown up. I get annoyed at people when you’re trying to tell them something and they’re all, “Yes, chef. Yes, chef”. I just think why are you barking ‘Yes chef’ at me, let’s just have a conversation. If people come here and are young and inexperienced they’re treated sensibly and they’re trained. One thing that is very hard for people coming into the kitchen at Chez Bruce is that we’re changing things the whole time. There’s very few recipes – I don’t like them. If you’re making something without a recipe you have to taste it and you have to concentrate. If you go to some top London kitchens, you’ll be given a recipe, an exact method and measurements, and some chefs like that. Here, nothing is set in stone.
How often do you change the menu?
Around every four to six weeks as that’s roughly how long seasons are for certain foods – let’s say for grouse, and it’s the good window for strawberries, for asparagus and so on – so it naturally falls into place.
Any food trends you’re not a fan of?
I don’t like foraging when it’s inappropriate. L’Enclume in the Lake District, for example, is well known for foraging as they’ve got it all on their back door. But to order that gear into a central London restaurant completely misses the point. If you want to do that, go and buy a pub in the country. All the foraged stuff we use here we pick ourselves. It’s very little but we forage elderflower, wild garlic, three cornered garlic, blackberries and damsons. You can get elderflower on the common if you know where to look.
Do you still get nervous about Michelin critics?
Yes, is the simple answer. I don’t want to say yes but it’s the truth. Something weird happened this year where they blocked me on Twitter a few weeks before the guide came out. It turned out just to be some issue with their Twitter account but it certainly got us talking! It’s very busy here, you know, and you have the odd service where you missed something and you think, were they in tonight. Gordon Ramsay, for example, will have almost three times as many chefs as us with half the customers per service so the odds of anything ever getting past that dining room door are almost nil, which is why they do so well and why he has three deserved stars at Hospital Road.
Where do you eat out in Surrey and London?
Dastaan in Ewell is a stone’s throw from where I grew up and is in this little unassuming parade of shops but it’s a brilliant Indian restaurant [headed up by an acclaimed team boasting Michelin-star careers]. In south west London, definitely Trinity and his bunch are brilliant, and in Wimbledon I’d really like to get to Black Radish. I think as far as central London is concerned I love restaurants like Noble Rot.
Is it hard for you to switch off and dine out?
No, I love dining out. I’ve enjoyed every meal I’ve ever had – good and bad. It’s nice to be cooked for!