Brouge
5 Hill Street
Richmond TW9 1SX
26/11/2010
“Chocolate from Brussels – pls help yourself”: this is how, in the office kitchen, I realised I had forgotten to write the review for this one. And I started thinking: “Why?”.

I went to Bruges last year and I loved it. I went to Brouge, in Richmond (I know. Confusing) last week and I couldn’t find it! We looked around, walked back and forth, with a map, a Blackberry, four eyes and a fairly good familiarity with Richmond and…NOTHING. Luckily we decided to cross the road and there it was! A small sign lead us to a basement which reminded me a bit of a boat deck, with a touch of Sweden: wooden steps, everything pale-blue and grey. Nice. Relaxing. Inside: a bit of a hybrid between a German pub and a French Bistro, but still nice. We walked in confidently, looking for our friends (I love it when we have company!) so didn’t really pay attention to the staff, but I’m not sure I saw any until we got to the table. It took us a long while to order: we were catching up with our friends so weren’t really paying attention to the menu. This is something that usually pisses the waitress off, but not ours! She smiled and gave us more time to chat…ehm…order.

I had Moules Marinieres with salad instead of fries. Edo had a Galette of Brie and Vegetable and Moules a la Crème. Our friends had: Tomato filled with Avocado and Crayfish (a shame they didn’t call it Tomato Crevettes on the menu. It’s the original name, after all); Moules a la Crème and Ox Cheek, Mushroom & Ale pie. And a beer, a bottle of wine and some bread to keep us going in the meantime! Going to Brouge (yes, I mean Brouge not Bruges!) wasn’t exactly a free choice: the only other option, Belgo, is a chain. Plus, when we checked the restaurant’s website the food seemed Belgian enough…such a pity to discover it is transforming into Brit-gian. On the other hand if you think of Belgian cuisine the only thing it comes to your mind is mussels! And they definitely are on the menu, so…Oh yes, Edo had a Waffle with chocolate sauce and WAFFLE=BELGIUM too! Impressions? Well, the starters apparently were good even though I expected Edo’s to be completely different. I was thinking more of breaded Brie than a “Bruschetta”, but he liked it and that’s what counts. Since mussels are such a pain to clean and cook at home, I was quite pleased someone else did it for me. Good size, nice flavour, but it is difficult to be blown away by a mytilidae in white wine! Now, I don’t know what happened with the fries! Yeah, yeah, I had salad so I should be the last one to talk, but I tried one and seemed cold, soggy and thinner than Twiggy. How could three people out of four say they were VERY good???!! Portions not big enough maybe…? The Waffle was probably butter free…and I can smell and taste butter from miles. The result is A) Edo didn’t like it! B) a chequered Frisbee. Chocolate sauce not worth mentioning.

All in all…I had a terrific evening thanks to our friends! Ambience and food were innocuous: didn’t get in the way of our conversation, didn’t distract us, didn’t amaze us nor made us run away. Brouge – at a tot of £100 for four – is a perfect place for a catch-up dinner, but nothing more than that. Maybe that’s why I forgot I’d been!

  • Food: 3
  • Ambience: 2.5
  • Service: 2.5
  • Value: 2.5
  • Overall: 2.62
Monica
We said no to Belgo right away as there are half a dozen in London, so it qualifies as a chain. Brouge has two establishments: one in Twickenham, one in Richmond. We chose Richmond semi-randomly and went with some friends. Another advantage of the Countries’ mission is we are never short of suggestions for places to eat when organising a catch-up with friends, and luckily this one looked civilised enough to bring other people along.

I was quite impressed when I booked. First they told me I could have 19:45 or 20:15 but not 20:00, a sign they are a proper restaurant where they actually think about the need to stagger orders, not something I imagine happening in most of the countries we have visited so far. Second they asked me if it was for a special occasion, another sign of attention to detail.

I love Richmond, it’s where I would live if I were English and had three kids. We go there very often in the spring and summer and we know the area but I had never noticed this one on the High Street. As we arrived I realised why: it’s in a basement, surrounded by shops and with a relatively small sign, so difficult to spot.

The interior is a bistro in a mild Northern European style, quite large, lots of wood, nicely lit, in fairness a bit bland.

The waitress was very kind and professional. I had a feeling that throughout the experience all the staff we came in contact with knew what they were doing: there was a process and they were good at it. This is remarkable for an informal establishment of the kind where you usually get an utterly clueless and smiling teenager who barely remembers her name. The training and structure must come from the ownership and is a very good thing.

Monica had told me they had just changed the menu on the website, and that the new one was much less Belgian. She was right: it is in essence a bistro menu with plenty of British favourites (e.g. steak and ale pie) and a limited bunch of Belgian classics scattered around, such as the tomato crevettes and waterzooi (which is however called fish stew not to scare off the stupid). The prominent moules frites section tips the balance in favour of Belgium. Waffles and chocolate dominate the dessert section, tipping it even further. Overall, if I had not known, I would still have been able to tell the menu is clearly Belgian-inspired, so the mission is valid.

For starter I had a baked brie (not breaded) on a bed of grilled vegetables, peppers, aubergines, courgettes. It was very well done but there was not enough cheese for a dish that calls itself cheese.

As a main I could not not have the mussels: I love them and eat them very rarely because they are such a pain to do at home. Besides, the moules frites are Belgium like the bife de lomo is Argentina. I had them a la crème, and they were gorgeous: simple dish, excellent quality mussels, perfectly cooked, delicious light creamy well-balanced sauce, good bread, spectacularly crispy fries. I was happy. I could have had two portions, but I was happy.

The waffle was a disappointment. It was soggy and chewy, the chocolate sauce was a pitiful medium-brown milky unacceptable colour instead of the near-black it should be, and there was not enough of it! A whole pot of chocolate sauce was missing from that thing.

I drank Blanche de Bruxelles, which was fabulous and I could have bathed in it. There were many, many good Belgian beers but sadly I had to drive back.

We spent £100 for four people, which was a good price for the amount of food and the quality.
In summary, after a Bangladeshi which presented limited opportunities for a good rant and few chances for a drooling praise, this is another one which is neither bad nor particularly exciting. I liked this much better than Bangadesh but primarily because it is a kind of establishment I like more, and a kind of food I enjoy more. Would I go to Richmond again for it? No. Would I go there again if I was in Richmond? Given the abundance of very nice restaurants, just possible.

And by the way, none of us could figure out where the name comes from, being neither Bruges (French) nor Brugge (Dutch / Flemish). Google was no help either.

  • Food: 2.5
  • Ambience: 2.5
  • Service: 3
  • Value: 2.5
  • Overall: 2.62
Edo
BELGIUM