Bravo Bruno

A motto I’ve been enthusiastically promulgating for some time is as follows: Clayton is the new Chorlton.  You heard it here first.

Optimistic, probably, but I spy with my little eye a tide of gentrification washing across East Manchester, leaving tidal treasures in its salty wake.   The Eastlands evolution is ably assisted by the Ashton line tram extension, a new Portuguese deli (with Sagres on tap) and the fabulous but incongruous Vermillion Cinnabar, which was clearly constructed on the promise of a super-casino that never materialised, or maybe they were just way ahead of me in predicting future urban hotspots.

The most dramatic part of the regeneration is the marvel of engineering that is the Etihad Campus project.  This is a ridiculous feat of redevelopment commissioned by the multi-zillionaire Arabic owners of Manchester City FC who have generously reclaimed (and chemically drained) acres of brownfield site opposite their stadium.  They are currently busy beavering up several stadia with training facilities to rival continental giants, as well as throwing in a nod to the community with a plush new college and public swimming pool.  Living nearby, I’ve seen it being erected at lightning speed.  I was initially baffled by what on earth Sheik Mansour is actually going to do with 17 football pitches, but then I thought, ‘who cares?’ If you build it, they will come.  The highlight of the development has to be the expansive and expensive footbridge traversing Alan Turing Way, presumably constructed so that the good citizens of Asda don’t get to mingle with Pellegrini at the pelican crossing.

The new leisure centre will further bolster the plethora of civic sporting opportunities in an area which is aptly named, Sports City.   Here you’ll find a muddy bliss bestowed by the 12km Clayton Vale Mountain Bike Trail, which shows off the lush greenery of an area previously undiscovered by most Mancunians. This is a part of Manchester where those annoyingly hyperactive types hang out, to play squash before breakfast, have a game of handball for lunch, spend the afternoon maxing out the indoor BMX centre and still find time for a few velodrome victory laps before dinner.

So if all of that activity works up an appetite, I had better get to the point.

Bruno’s 

At number 564, Ashton New Road, Clayton, lives a lovely little unassuming Italian café-cum-diner. With its shabby exterior, Le Delicatezza Di Bruno (or ‘Brew-nose’ as it’s colloquially, locally known) will surpass and smash your expectations.

The previous incarnation of this café was a greasy spoon with a reputation so bad, even City fans wouldn’t eat there.  The outside sure isn’t a looker, so it took some time for anyone in their right mind to venture across the threshold.  Living nearby and being notoriously nosy, I was keen to support local trade.  So not long after he opened in January 2013, I stepped inside to find a warm interior of Italianate posters and school classroom furnishings, aiming to whisk patrons away to life in Lazio.

At this time, and indeed during the first few months of building the business, Bruno’s got off the ground by capitalising on the hundreds of workers who congregate daily at the aforementioned Etihad Campus project.  He only served breakfast during these early days and dedicated his time to delighting the florescent-clad hungry masses with belly-busting bargain breakfasts.

Breakfast, by the way, is a fairly standard affair but at £4.20 including a pork patty, it is just what the doctor ordered (if your doctor is more concerned about your cash-to-bacon ratio, rather than your cardiovascular system).  He’s recently updated the breakfast menu which now includes smoked salmon and cream-cheese bagels (£2.90) and a veggie offering with sweet potato sausages (£4.20).  Back when it was all cheap bangers et al., I started dropping in regularly for breakfast and even then, the clues were there…  I saw the promise in the homemade hash browns, proper Italian coffee and deli style desserts.  I knew then that not only was this going to be the place where I would eat breakfast forever and a day, but also that there was great potential for even more.

Bigger and better things must always have been the intention, as come summer 2013, with an evening licence to hand, Bruno and his Italian team started knocking out pastas, pizzas and tapas until 10pm.  The first attraction is the price:  at £13.50 for a 2 person tapas and pasta / pizza deal, it is numerically cheaper than cooking at home.  There are a few meal deals to feed hungry faces and if you’re in a big group, they can offer you £10 per head for a taste of pretty much everything.   Beers and house wine are affordable too, at a fraction of the price you’d pay 2 miles up the road in the northern quarter.  This isn’t totally posh nosh but it is authentic, homely and well made.  The portions are big, very big, and Bruno seems to take it as a personal affront if you don’t leave his establishment absolutely stuffed to the gills and sweating garlic.

A real highlight are the pizzas. He ships his flour in from Italy and hand rolls the bases to bake them fresh to order; they are not to be missed.  I can highly recommend a 19 inch vegetarian for hungover Sundays, or the meaty Roma which incredibly incorporates homemade Bolognese into its pizza topping: two Italian staples, together at last!

The biggest draw has to be Bruno himself.  He’s a welcoming and generous Roman with a history of producing award-winning pizza in his home country.  He charms all his customers in his best broken English, ever eager to please.

In this current climate of cuts and credit crunch concerns, it’s all too easy for new businesses to fold.  For a while, I would pass a forlorn looking empty establishment on a weeknight and worry that my brilliant Bruno’s would succumb to the same fate.  I made it my mission to keep it alive, so I took everyone that needed feeding within a 10 mile radius and tried to eat there as often as I could – not exactly a hardship with food this delicious – but I soon realised that one woman’s custom alone is not enough to weather the financial storm (even if she does eat above-average portions).

One fine day I happened upon Tripadvisor for Manchester, not a source one would normally consult in one’s own city, and lo-and-behold, the gods of word of mouth had spoken.  Bruno’s was lauded as the number 1 ‘restaurant’ in Manchester!   He’d successfully managed to entice the masses to the East and transform the café into a go-to foodie destination.  The high scores have got to be a combination of the grim exterior (I mean, metal punched images of greedy children, why?!) perhaps creating an initial low expectation, met with warm service and wonderful food.  I hope the great reviews can be sustained as the prices rise, which is inevitable (although I note in the Evening News coverage, he hinted at a plan to keep them low.)  I was ecstatic at this review site recognition because not only does he deserve it, but this surely shores up my local staple for the foreseeable future.

It is the success of Bruno’s Café that has fortified my optimism about Clayton’s renaissance.  If this humble café, with its rough exterior and dodgy history, can reveal itself to have a warm interior of unexpected delights, then maybe this could be a symbol of Clayton itself – a place with a rough looking exterior and a previously bad reputation, but with plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.  It is with this symbolism that Bruno has pulled off his most delicious offering of all.  Bravo Bruno, Bravo.

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