Richmond upon Thames
5 Hill Street
When Andy Fisher returned to the UK after a few years of working in Belgium, he brought back with him two things: a love of the Belgian approach to food (mussels in particular), and a keen desire to share his love of it with others. So, Brouge was born. It started life as a laid back, family-friendly eatery at the back of the Old Goat pub on the Twickenham and Teddington border, and became so popular and busy that Andy decided to expand.
Brouge Bistro and Belgian Beer Cellar in Richmond is deceptive. My first impression (from the candles guttering on dark mahogany tables, beer kegs set in high sconces, dimly-lit chandeliers and gallery bar area above the main restaurant floor) was that I had stepped onto the set of a Ruritanian musical. But the staff are friendly, a modern soundtrack adds to rather than detracts from conversation, and the only nod to lederhosen are the comfy brown banquettes snuggling up to the cellar’s white stucco walls.
The word ‘bistro’ conjures up memories of gingham tablecloths, rubbery steaks in pepper sauces washed down by fairly rough French table wine – but that was the late 70s. Brouge offers plain, honest food, and sauces cooked with beer as well as wine. My pea & mint soup starter came with white sliced bread and was warm and heartening. Flavours were blended for comfort rather than to zing, although emphasising the mint would have made it more of a summer soup.
As it was Brouge’s Mussel Festival when we visited, I would have regretted not trying one of its inventive dishes. The menu usually offers three ‘moules’ selections, but during the festival Sandy’s Fishmongers in Twickenham (my local), is delivering Scottish mussels to be rustled up into such intriguing dishes as Witbier & sweet vegetable moules, moules with Pernod, and korma curried moules. There are currently ’10 ways to eat mussels’, including the expected moules marinière, but my Scottish haddock, cream, garlic and onion moules was probably the best serving of this versatile mollusc I’ve ever had. The mussels were plump, the haddock was succulent, and the cream sauce begged to be soaked up with the bread. Rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in is de rigueur here.
While frites come as standard with each moules dish, (and are served in little silver buckets) they were extraneous, and quickly cooled. A rocket and Parmesan side order made a better accompaniment to the rich fish and sauce. Alongside five beer cocktails and 10 draught beers, Brouge offers 40 bottled varieties and each is matched to food on the menu so that even beer virgins like me can’t go wrong.
After a pause to rest the palate and appreciate that, for a Monday night, the place was lively yet also cosy and relaxed, it was time for a Belgian waffle. My lovely waiter suggested I mix and match a cinnamon waffle with Maple syrup, and I opted for a fruit beer, Floris Honey Witbier (4.5%), to go with it. It was the high spot of the evening, and I may become a beer convert yet.
With starters from £4.95 and mains from £7.95, your wallet will be as relaxed after an evening out here as you will.
Brouge also offers a Beat The Clock two-course selection until 7pm Monday to Friday (until 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays), and fish and chips with a free beer or wine choice for £11 on Tuesdays.
Brouge: 5 Hill Street, Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey TW9 1SX, Tel: 020 8332 0055. http://www.brouge.co.uk.
Reviewer: Bryony Weaver