A floating cocktail bar seems to be asking for trouble. Bruno’s can be found gently bobbing away on the Islington stretch of the Regent’s Canal, seemingly unconcerned that merrily pissed folk and bodies of water aren’t always the best of bedfellows. Yet despite that somewhat damp element of jeopardy, Bruno’s is buzzing.
Opened at the end of 2022 by brothers Fin and Lorcan Spiteri, you’ll find Bruno’s moored next to their equally barge-based restaurant Caravel, which has already made waves (sorry), thanks to its playful take on British cuisine. This pair also have some extreme industry cachet: mum Melanie Arnold is the co-founder of Rochelle Canteen and dad Jon Spiteri helped to open Sessions Arts Club as well as St John back in the day. The Spiteri siblings are no mere foodie nepo babies, however; they’ve done stints at the esteemed Quo Vadis, Trullo, Locanda Locatelli, the now-closed Oldroyd, and Fin – who’s in charge of the drinks – has also plied his trade at shiny speakeasy 69 Colebrooke Row.
Bruno’s is a hidden bar that at no point makes you feel like you’re in an immersive theatre production
The duo’s experience is evident at all stages of the Bruno’s experience. Importantly, the bar is that rare thing – a hidden London bar that at no point makes you feel like you’re an unwilling participant in an immersive theatre production. Instead, the process of buzzing your way on to a pontoon seems practical rather than convoluted, as it’s also an entrance to a clutch of houseboats which can probably do without randoms roving about their bedroom windows late at night.
A barge it might be, but Bruno’s isn’t your mate’s Hackney Wick houseboat. There’s no dusty log burner, no overriding smell of roll-ups or bucket of warm Red Stripes. Bruno’s is less a boat and more a sophisticated bistro, with comfy velvet armchairs, flattering lighting and a soul-focused playlist that pumps out low-level Rick James to a well-behaved Friday evening cocktail crowd. As romantic spots go, Bruno’s – named after Fin’s staffordshire bull terrier cross – has got the intimate, but not too intimate, thing nailed. This is ideal third-date territory.
Drinks are playful without being silly. Cherry Cola – a simple concoction of cherry vodka, cola syrup and soda will suit those with a mouthful of sweet teeth – while the Chido, made with mezcal, smoked lime juice and orgeat, is a smoky, brilliantly pokey Margarita. I ordered a hazelnut sour with Frangelico on the strength of it tasting ‘exactly like a Kinder Bueno’ according to our friendly server, which followed the Starliner Martini, a turbo Espresso Martini with tequila and chocolate liqueur. There are snacks too, big bowls of glistening olives and nibbles shipped in from Caravel, including marinated anchovies, sesame prawn toast and chicken liver pâté wth brioche.
Maybe the only trouble Bruno’s is asking for is how they’ll manage to convince everyone to go ashore at the end of the night.