Dumfries….... A grey grim land was the border old in the days when blood ran free.
I was a suave thirteen year old when I first sat down to dine at Bruno’s: It was 1969, two years after the release of Sgt Pepper, and the summer that saw Woodstock mirror the era of peace and love in a puff of Mary Jane, only for it to be brutally shattered at the Altamont Speedway four months later. I was eating with my mother, down to rescue me from the Victorian style asylum that fronted as a boarding school. Monday through Saturday we were hung upside down with hooks piercing the pink soles of our feet and fed a diet of gruel before daily thrashings at the hands of merciless school masters. It was like prep for emigration to North Korea. Sundays were different, we were blessed then given access to showers, soap and a boiled egg before being collected by visiting family and treated to lunch. On a really good Sunday I would have lunch in Bruno’s, afternoon tea in the Cairndale Hotel then dinner in the Go Sun before being returned for another six days inverted incarceration.
Despite the horrors I retain a deep fondness for this border town, and every now and then, I make the pilgrimage down the M74. The journey time has reduced from 2.5 hours to around 1.5 hours. My mother has long departed this world, nowadays my fellow travellers accompany me out of jaded curiosity. There's a ritual to be followed; first stop being Bruno’s, always, followed by a dash up to the gates of my Alma Mater through which we peer, shiver and sweat as we hear the silent screams. Next stop Dock Park; scene of my apprehension by a bold country policeman before being bundled into the back of his car and deposited with the headmaster, which elevated me to hero status amongst a certain crowd in the schoolyard. I was innocent… Finally we drive along the Whitesands, stopping at the site of the Go Sun, The Golden Egg, (Italian cafeteria frequented by my classmate, Francis Fazzi), and the building that once was a musical instrument shop where I bought my first acoustic guitar before heading for the road home.
Bruno’s to me is special; it’s the place of many happy memories, the same family own and run it to this day, my initial visit was attended to by Bruno himself. His grandson is now on the stove and great grandson is taking orders at the tables. Surely the longest dynasty in any restaurant I have experienced.
If I was to choose one particular cuisine as my favourite, it would undoubtedly be Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese,Indian, Spanish,Thai, Vietnamese,Lebanese,Chippie all at once. I do not understand anyone who might dare to disagree with that list. Years ago, I had a pal whose preference over all of the above was Mexican… No wonder they celebrate Dia de los Muertos, retching over the porcelain having eaten the guff that is served up here; Donald Trump calls it Fake Food. I hope her tastebuds have developed, probably stunted her growth.
I’m always slightly apprehensive when I bring others here, they don’t share my history, things may have changed with time, my memory may be rose tinted. No worries, I have left on every occasion delighted with the food, service and charm which oozes in this place. There are only three notable differences from the good old days: 1) The hors d’oeuvre trolley has been banished; 2) The entrance is no longer through the side door; 3) There's an bar area in a new extension. Everything else appears as I remember. The menu doesn’t, I don't think, look much different although the pizza section may be new. Like in the last twenty years?! There's something comforting about the familiar choices on the open pages in front of me.
I'm with the coven on this trip, what more could a young boy wish for? We are over an hour late in arriving but called to inform them which was greeted with “that's no problem, see you when you arrive.” We sat in the bar area, looking at the menus and sipping on cool mineral water before ordering. I had already decided upon the traditional Italian option of Antipasti, Primi then Secondi whilst the girls squawked about only having a starter and main dish before chucking in a spaghetti to share between them anyway. What’s that saying? “A minute on the lips, a lifetime as a lard arse.” That's maybe not 100% accurate but you get my drift.
Let’s start with me, we can work our way down after. I had a plate of mixed salami; prosciutto, coppa, Milano and mortadella. All wafer thin, fresh and served with hot puffy fingers of panzanelle. Like everything I ate here it was exactly as it should have been, nothing pretentious, Italian cuisine is best like that. The girls had Parma ham with melon (the melon remarkably sweet unlike the turnip often served in places that should know better), tuna & bean salad and a bruschetta topped with tomato, basil, garlic and mozzarella. They scoffed the lot, happy little munchers.
Cannelloni Di Carne was up next for me. I really enjoyed this plateful of rich meat filled pasta in a bolognese and bechamel bath. I was relaxed now, everything was just as it should be. As for my guests, they shared a Spaghetti alle Vongole presented with the pasta ‘al dente’ and the juicy clams in a rich tomato sauce. All gone.
An old fashioned Steak au Poivre, served rare as requested, with mash and crisp fried onions in a light batter took me back. Our vegan ravaged a grilled lemon sole fillet, apparently the fish was vegetarian so that's ok. Scampi & chips was equally well received, these were plump and meaty not the balls boobytrapped with super hot steam, often served up in some chippies. A sirloin steak with splendid sauté potatoes the final choice and highly praised. We shared a tomato and onion salad which arrived with decanters of balsamic and olive oil for self dressing.
I was craving for some fresh fruit which is what I ate along with a scoop of their very good, very smooth vanilla ice cream. Crème Caramel was almost as good as Vito’s in the Torretta Hotel in Montecatini, that's huge applause indeed. Tiramisu was accompanied by Clair’s tale from Bologna, “no it’s no.” You'll have to ask her. In the absence of a foie gras pudding Sarah finished with an impressive Gelato Affogato which had Bicerin Chocolate Liqueur on the side. Happy fatties we were.
A bottle of Barolo, a couple of Moretti Zero and Aqua Panna brought our bill for four to roughly £220. For such an enjoyable feast with service to equal I think we got a bargain.