Here is the ‘new’ disclaimer: PR guy for Brouge emailed me asking if I’d come and review Brouge in Richmond, he covered the costs of the meal, and I said sure, why not. Am I gonna be totally objective? Totally. If you don’t trust the opinion, forget the words and just drool over the food porn (yes, you can do that, its a foodblog) , scroll on, fellow eater, scroll on.
When I think about Belgian food, I think soups, hearty stews, bread, tartare, more bread, frites, frites, frites and of course, mussels. I had spent a short summer in Leuven – a town near Brussels – years ago and I had great meals there. I can’t remember the names, nor could I recall the street names; I do remember eating in small restaurants that served genuine food.
I do not know many Belgian restaurants in London (in fact I can only think of Belgo). Brouge was an interesting proposition when I got the invite, and I must say, if nobody told me about this place, I wouldn’t have ventured all the way out to Richmond to try it out. They have two branches, I went to the newer branch; the original is somewhere in Twickenham.
It took me a while to find this place, it is a basement restaurant and the notoriously placed signage meant that I was running in circles before finally, looking down. Right then, time for some booze.
My evening kicked off with the ‘bat taster’ of eight different types of Belgian brew. I can’t remember what they all were, but it was an able selection of fruit beers, blondes, cloudy ones, and bitter ones. The Belgians do have great beer, and this bat taster was a great way to try em all, without having it all go to the head too quickly (unless if that’s what you want that is, in which case, go large.).
Salmon and Ribs
The menu was a little confusing: where’s the Belgian food? Honey ribs with spring onion, huh? Scottish poached salmon, double huh? Buffalo mozzarella and Kent tomatoes, triple bah. And to top it off: Brouge mezze of tomato salsa. The authenticity. Personally, I don’t really mind if the chef decides to stray from convention, I don’t have much against fusion (well….) , as long as it comes out tasting alright, I’ll look the other way. Although, I did struggle a litte with so many ‘global’ choices.
Scottish poached salmon & smoked salmon terrine topped with lemon prawns (£6). That’s a long moniker. With the restaurant looking much like a pub with a ‘Belgian’ kitchen attached, I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t expecting michelin standard brilliance. The first taste of the terrine was smooth, creamy and the zing was surprisingly appetizing. The lightness of the dish made for a wonderful summer dish, and those juicy prawns were simply tasty. There’s isn’t much else to say about it to be honest; it was as advertised, and as expected.
Alright, the other starter on the night (mine) were the Honey Spiced Lambiek Beer Ribs with Chilli & Spring Onion (£6). The sauce was tart and with just the slightest hint of chilli, it was pudding on ribs. I could not see the Belgian side of this dish; As far as I can tell, this is barbecue chinese spare rib. Don’t get me wrong though, it was actually delish. The fragrance of the spring onions contrasted well with the honey sweetness, and the ribs were cooked until the soft meat effortless fell off the bone. Um ok, how can I describe this: Ah. Like the perfect chinese takeaway ribs.
Before you gourmetheads pick up on the oxymoron that is ‘good chinese takeaway’, I do believe that food needn’t be poncy to be delicious, and good chinese takeaway really does exist, shame they don’t deliver to SW7.
Moules and Duck
The starters were quite agreeable. Surprising. I can actually take this place seriously.
I just had to order one.
Mussels and Frites; lemongrass & basil scented cooked in coconut cream (£12). Scented? Pretty adventurous copywriting there. I immediately noticed the larger scottish mussels. I was told that they usually use the smaller Belgian ones, but were out of season during summer. Regardless, bigger shellfish is always welcomed. Let’s start with the frites: bit of mayonnaise with that, mm, yeah not bad at all, any restaurant can be proud of them. They are abit fatter than I’d expect them to be, but that’s just nitpicking. The lemongrass broth is quite abit punchy, and it carried distinctive green thai curry aroma. Thin and runny, but with sharp intensity, mussels are cooked well. Nothing offensive and a rather mild rendition, and ably does its job.
Right then, let’s move on to a serious dish. Confit Leg of Aylesbury Duck served with a Grape & Garlic Jus (£14)
At this point, I’m convinced that the Belgian tag is just another moniker. Maybe Anglo-Belgian or International Belgian, so far the kitchen has churned out rather respectable dishes. Ok to the duck. The sauce is a good balance of fruity against a subtle garlic palette, ok perhaps just abit too tarty. The mash on the side was altogether forgettable and for a confit, it wasn’t quite as melt in your mouth. The duck itself wasn’t brimming with flavour and for me, it was just a little uninteresting. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it felt like it was cooked, then placed under running water, then plated up. Nothing wrong with it, nothing exciting about it; it was quintessentially average (if indeed something average, could be quintessential..) .
When in Richmond…
Taking into account the price point, and what I think they are gunning for, I think that Brouge is successful in what they’ve set out to do. It’s got chatty pub ambiance, the faux Belgian cuisine is entirely believable and I think the food – while a little manufactured and unexciting – gets the job. I opted to finish with the White Chocolate & Orange Pot served with Shortbread & Crushed Raspberries (£6). Decadent richness with delightful fruitiness (I’m a white chocolate fan), the syrupy sauce texture was abit heavy on the finish but it left me feeling satisfied.
I have to say, I had quite low expectations, but it came out rather well. Don’t go expecting glamour and glitz, you won’t find it; instead, what you will find are easy eating dishes to soothe rumbling tummies. If it was just a little closer to me, I would quite happily pop in on a weeknight after work, unbutton the top two, ruffle the hair abit (for effect) and settle down for a bat taster and some chinese/belgian honey ribs.
The Gist of It
Brouge official site
5 Hill St TW9 1SX 020 8332 0055
£30 for three courses and a drink.
Verdict: For weeknights, great place to grab something simply hearty that tastes good.