Glasgow’s west end has a new ‘best friend’… or ‘BRU’ as they say in South Africa


BRU exterior

Swallows are neither Scottish nor South African, but are happily native to both countries, and spend precisely no time at all worrying about how they should introduce themselves to people in between migrations.

Bradley Potterton, who has just opened BRU at the Thornwood end of Glasgow’s bustling Dumbarton Road, has a similarly cosmopolitan background, and a matching desire for his new venture not to be tied down by any assigned identity. So, depending on your point of view, BRU is a cafe, a restaurant and a bar, harbouring a firm commitment to local sourcing and community connections, whilst simultaneously offering an ‘infusion’ of flavours and culture from 8000 miles away.

South African-born, with a Scottish wife, 43-year-old Brad migrated to Scotland via jobs in Australia and London, with his most recent role being as assistant manager at Hyndland St institution Ziques, where he fell in love with Glasgow’s West End ­– and began looking for a venue to call his own.

He found that opportunity whilst out on the daily nursery run with his son, which took him past the traditional tenement block that marks the end of Dumbarton Road’s commercial stretch, and where one morning, just as lockdown was lifting, he spotted an unconventional sign seeking a new tenant for the street-front unit that had previously been the popular St Louis Café.

The prospective landlord was Bruce Williams, of Scottish craft beer pioneers Williams Bros, whose family has owned the building for some time, and who was very particularly not wanting the prime spot to be occupied by a chain, and had thus restricted his ‘to let’ advertising to a poster that only passing locals would see.

‘Bruce wanted the space to go to a business that was properly local, and genuinely community led,” recalls Brad.

“The philosophy is to keep it seasonal, keep it local, and contribute to the area, rather than just taking from it.”

Brad noted that it was the first time in his career that he had not been required to ‘buy’ a business as part of a tenancy agreement, with the Williams family more interested in the long-term health of the local hospitality ecosystem than in maximising short-term returns from their property.

And what an ecosystem Dumbarton Road has become! At No. 734, BRU is a close neighbour of The Thornwood Bar, and across the road, the Thornwood’s owners’ newly opened south-east Asian restaurant venture, GaGa. A short walk east is Partick’s main drag, with its plethora of pubs, bars and eateries, while a wander northwards takes you into the Broomhill brunch triangle, defined by Wee Paree, Kothel and The Square Bar.

This local hospitality community had, said Brad, been ‘amazingly helpful’, viewing his venture as a welcome addition to the circuit, rather than as competition, with The Thornwood’s Marc Ferrier and Ken Hamilton singled out for particular praise.

The majority of the work done on BRU ahead of its opening fell to tradespeople and creatives from the same neighbourhood: local artist Flore DeHoog added subtle South African wildlife illustrations to the bathrooms – including those aforementioned swallows – while the epic flower arrangements adorning the two feature pillars were prepared by she.blooming.gathered of Broomhill. When it was decided that the venue’s benches needed a refresh, the selected upholsterer only had to travel a half-mile along the road from Partick’s cricket ground.

In return for this warm welcome, Brad has set out to provide the community with a ‘home away from home’, with the BRU kitchen open from 9 o’clock in the morning til 9 at night, serving up breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and late plates, in a space that can comfortably accommodate 40 covers, but could stretch to 50 if required.

Leading this effort is head chef Scott Barron, who was running his own kitchen in Tobermory before coming to the mainland for BRU’s pre-Christmas launch. After some experimentation, the menu has now settled down to an eclectic mix of big breakfasts, gastropub dishes featuring locally sourced meats and market-fresh vegetables, a range of wilfully non-conformist gourmet pizzas, and some South African staples, including bunnychow, which is essentially a rich chick-pea curry served in a hollowed-out loaf.

BRU interior

And this is the point where Brad sets out his position vis-à-vis BRU’s perceived identity as a South African ‘themed’ establishment … it isn’t. The popular bunnychow Scott serves up is in a Morton’s roll, undoubtedly Scotland’s most beloved of bread products (and a lovely company to work with, Brad adds) but some 8000 miles away from the bread that a visiting South African might expect.

Biltong is also on offer, but again this is locally made, rather than imported. A dried meat snack prepared differently to jerky – the marinaded meat is dried whole then sliced, as opposed to thin-slicing before drying – Brad had aspired to make his own, but thought better of the Environmental Health tangle this might have led him into, and instead enlisted Phelps of Paisley to recreate the South African recipe.

“We are unapologetically inauthentic,” chuckles Brad. “The point is to offer good food, from local sources as much as possible. If we can include a touch of South Africa in that, we will… but I’m not shipping ingredients 8000 miles for the sake of authenticity. We have our carbon footprint to think of.”

Behind the bar, Williams Bros and Overtone lead the beer offering, while there is gin from the Glasgow Gin Co and Purist, whisky and whiskey from DamGoodDrams, and in a small concession to international trade, a selection of organic South African wines.

Rock up to BRU for breakfast and you’ll be set up for the day with help from the Good Coffee Cartel, Mossgiel organic milk, Corrie Mains Farm eggs (served fried on top of a bunnychow roll, if you want some of that unapologetic inauthenticity), sausages and black pudding from GH Davidson butchers and bread from Soja’s Bakehouse. These big breakfasts come in both carnivorous and vegan iterations, and feature another supremely local Glaswegian favourite, homemade tattie scones.

Going public with this idiosyncratic offering in the heart of both the Scottish winter and an incipient recession is not for the faint-hearted, but Brad has faith that Dumbarton Road’s renaissance has room for BRU.

“Opening a bar during this time of economic unrest is obviously a concern, but with the increase in working from home, more people are spending more time within their own community, which is why areas like Thornwood and Patrick are exploding with exciting new venues.

“We’re confident our community-focused vibe will be the perfect laidback venue for people to unwind. We believe BRU can be a big part of Thornwood as it continues to become one of the best places to eat and drink in the city.”