Review: The historic Preston City Centre cafe that fails to live up to its potential

Posted on - 8th October, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - City Centre, Food & Drink, Opinion, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Restaurants in Preston, What's On in Preston
Brucciani's Pic: Molly Ashton
Brucciani’s Pic: Molly Ashton

Up next on Blog Preston’s series of the best and worst reviewed eateries is the iconic cafe and ice cream parlour Brucciani’s, located in Fishergate in the City Centre

If anyone was in a situation where they needed to quiz someone on whether they are genuinely from Preston or are just trying to look incredibly cool, there are a number of questions they might ask, like:

What other magical food can be bought from the Flag Market’s potato cart? (Answer, parched peas.) How many for a pound yer gas lighters in 1988? (Answer, six.) Where in Preston might one see all the hit West End shows and some of the biggest music acts in the world? (Answer, NOWHERE.)

Another would be, what’s the name of the Italian ice cream parlour that first opened in 1932 and about which everyone who grew up in Preston has a memory that’s fond, traumatic, or both?

Brucciani’s is Preston. I took my 76-year-old mother Yvonne with me and she told me that when she was a young girl her aunt would occasionally take her shopping to town and they’d have tea and cake at Brucciani’s.

In the 1950s the waitresses wore pristine black dresses with white aprons, and impeccably dressed ladies daintily pulled off their satin gloves before reaching into their glossy patent handbags, pulling out a packet of Du Maurier cigarettes, sparking up, and elegantly blowing smoke into the faces of any passing baby that wasn’t already holding a fag of its own.

My generation’s memories are completely different. In the 1970s we were introduced to Brucciani’s as the ice cream parlour where one might find out that putting a scoop of ice cream in a glass of coke is an idea that should never have strayed beyond the borders of America, like corn dogs and Adam Sandler.

Read more: Preston in the pivotal 1960s, colour postcards

In the 1980s, every teenager would go ‘up town’ on a Saturday, and no matter what time between 10am and 4pm it was, there would always be at least one person from our extended gang sitting at one of the red Formica tables with an empty, cold cup in front of them. 

Mr Brucciani would good-naturedly harrumph his way past us, but never made us leave as long as we’d all bought one of the tiny cups of tea each at some point. The nicotine stained decor had seen better days, and there was only one toilet, which was a little cubicle at the back of the cafe, with frosted glass in the window so that everyone in the cafe could see the vague shape of whoever was caught short, as they used the facilities. 

Regulars knew to go before we set off into town, because using the loo in Brucciani’s was like an anxiety nightmare. 

Every year, the Christmas decorations would come out and Woolworths and BHS would be drag-queen sparkly. Every year we’d ask Mr Brucciani when he was going to put up his Christmas decorations and he would impatiently wave towards a piece of emaciated tinsel and a robin that looked like it had recently dug its way out of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.

It was as much part of a Prestonian teen’s Christmas tradition as getting a piece of skin trapped in a nutcracker whilst trying to open a walnut that we didn’t want, because it wouldn’t have been Christmas without it. 

Eventually we all grew up and moved away, and Brucciani’s passed on to other owners. It got a magnificent makeover at some point and became the most beautiful cafe in Preston, with the vaulted ceilings, brass railings and marble counters that can be seen today.

Inside Brucciani's Pic: Molly Ashton
Brucciani’s Pic: Molly Ashton

Unfortunately, the reviews on social media are less than glowing. One person described the tea as ‘dishwater in a dirty mug’, whilst another called Brucciani’s ‘the worst cafe in Morecambe’. That struck me as the most impressively multilayered, brutal damning of a cafe I’ve ever come across, before I realised that there is actually a branch in Morecambe and the reviewer had just posted under the wrong one. 

Once inside, the process at the counter is the same as always. Order drinks from the first person, slide your tray down, order food when you pay the second person. Not cake though, if you’re having the cake and small hot drink deal you should have ordered from the first person. Take your pre-brewed, pre-milked tiny cup of tea to your table, wander around looking for sugar, don’t eat your cakes before your meals arrive or the world will collapse, receive your meal, wander around looking for cutlery, sit back down, have a good look at your plates. 

I asked for a full English breakfast at £7.95 that was allegedly served all day, but was told that although it was only 2.30pm the kitchen had stopped taking cooked food orders. 

I changed my choice to a bacon, brie and cranberry panini for £7.45, which was exotic cuisine in the early 1990s and still the most exciting thing on an unimaginative menu.

Brucciani's bacon and brie panini
I woke up like this

It came with a tiny 70s side salad without any dressing, and although the amount of filling was adequate, the bacon was fatty and the whole thing had a general clagginess that had little flavour and wasn’t easy to eat. 

Yvonne threw caution to the wind and ordered the seafood platter for £9.45, and she received exactly that in abundance. 

Her plate was piled high with prawns, fresh poached salmon and what looked like an entire packet of smoked salmon. There were two pots of Marie Rose sauce, a wedge of lemon and a side salad that was a little more substantial than mine. 

Brucciani's seafood platter
The seafood platter. It’s just seafood on a plate. Simple but nice, like me, if I was nice

The slice of bread came pre-marged, or whatever unpleasant spread was used, which was disappointing as we’d specifically asked if they used real butter and were told they did. However, that was the only negative as everything else on the plate was fresh and as expected. 

Our coffees were better than the often burnt tasting offerings served by the big chains, but Brucciani’s still use the same tiny cups and mugs that they’ve always used, so although a small coffee is slightly cheaper than Costa, for example, customers get almost half the amount, and have no choice in how strong or weak their tea or coffee is as it’s poured straight from an urn.

The offer of a small tea or coffee and a cake for £3.95 is good value, and the portions of the coffee renoir and the lemon meringue were a decent enough size. We were told they’re all bought from the reputable bakery Lathams of Broughton, so fans of their cakes and pastries would be happy. 

Brucciani's coffee renoir
A Latham’s coffee renoir

None of the food or drinks were awful. But none, apart from the seafood platter, were good. Although the staff were friendly and helpful, the place as a whole feels unloved, and the stunning interior just accentuates the disappointing menu and meals.

Brucciani’s desperately needs an overhaul, starting with a chef who can modernise the tired and uninspiring menu and make cakes, breads, pastries and ice cream in house, using fresh, authentic produce. Prestonians can buy a sad cup of tea and a droopy sandwich anywhere. In fact the Upper Crust at the train station is literally a few minutes down the road.

Brucciani’s is a beautiful, historic building situated on the busiest shopping street in the city. It could be Preston’s answer to Betty’s Tearoom, or a bustling Rome style cafe, known for serving the best coffee and sandwiches in the city. It could be the place to eat fresh croissants or croque monsieur on a Sunday morning whilst listening to a classical guitarist, or to visit in an evening to share a bottle of wine, a crusty loaf and a pile of moules marinière. It could be the meeting place for a book club, or a life drawing class.

Read more: 87-year-old artist’s work goes on display at The Larder

People would happily pay more in such an individual place where you should be able to get the best… something. Anything. Even if it’s just the best place to get a telling off for making too much noise by an old Italian cafe owner who’s reached the end of his not inconsiderable patience. 

Sadly, if I’m asked where to go for the best coffee, sandwich, cooked breakfast, cake, ice cream, atmosphere, drink meal, anything else, Brucciani’s would not currently be on my list of recommendations, although with some fresh ideas it has so much potential to be extraordinary. I hope it gets its soul back, because to many Prestonians it’s not just any old cafe.

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Do you have any fond or not-so-fond memories of Brucciani’s? Share them with us in the comments

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