Nestled in the Lanes stands the low-key frontage of Brighton’s sole Filipino restaurant, Bruha, crafting artisanal dishes with cultural fusion by a British-Filipino owner. It has not turned a profit for four years, but the owner said he asked for nothing but simply to “feed people with his (family) food”.

Sisig – diced pork and chicken cooked in coconut oil, calamansi juice and an array of ingredients – a traditional, quintessential Filipino dish and has become my all-time comfort food since my first taste. Served on a sizzling plate alongside a bowl of garlic rice, the harmonious fusion of flavours, meats, and rice offers me a profound sense of cultural immersion – a beautiful blend of Eastern ingredients and Western culinary technique that tantalise my taste buds. 

Despite trying a similar dish in Hong Kong, it possesses a unique flavour here. Jay, the owner, explains that the ingredients are sourced directly from his home island in the Philippines, infusing the cuisine with a niche island flavour. 

Equally remarkable are adobo – pork belly simmered in vinegar and garlic – and kare kare – slow-cooked beef brisket in a sumptuous peanut sauce with bok choy and vegetables. Never can I predict their flavours until I take that first bite, as each dish is distinct, with its own unique flavours and twists that constantly creates new surprises to my palate.

But my favourite is actually the dessert made from ube – a purple-coloured yam largely grown in the Philippines, which is not only served as food but also carries the symbolic meaning of Filipino resilience and adaptability. The more than 500 years of Spanish colonisation left the Filipinos adobo and cooking techniques with vinegar, and they stand up to create their own culinary identity with ube.

Names of the cocktails, such as Kapre – a tall, dark, and hairy creature resembling a tree giant for environmental protection – originate from Filipino myths and stories that are little known by the majority. The Philippines have a manifold and interesting culture that is worth hearing by more people, Jay says.

“What does ‘bruha’ mean?” I am curious about the name of the restaurant.

“It means ‘witch’ in Filipino, which is taboo in the Philippines… My mum would never allow me to name my restaurant this way, but I’m a bit rebellious,” Jay says with a mischievous grin from behind the lush green leaves of a tropical plant. Across from him is the restaurant’s red brick wall, adorned with tiny cracks, remnants of its past as an antique fish market. A bag of rice is nailed to the wall, a cultural symbol of good luck from Jay’s Filipino mother.

I whiled away two weekend afternoons with my friends beside a large open window on the first floor of Bruha. The warm-toned, dim lighting is meticulously crafted by the owner to enhance the most comfortable dining experience. On the shelf behind us, Jay’s personal collection of candles, second-hand antiques, and skeletons carrying the childhood stories his mother shared with him. He relocated all these decorations from his own room which is now empty. We engaged in conversations about life, culture, and reminiscing about our homes back in Asia – perhaps here, it feels like a home away from home.

Since my second visit, Jay has always greeted me with a warm smile, thanking me for bringing in new friends. But on my third visit, he told me it might be one of the last times I would see him, as the restaurant faces financial hardships. He shared with me the struggles Bruha has endured during the COVID-19 pandemic without receiving sufficient government support. Running the business for four years without turning a profit has been an uphill battle.

“I just want to bring my family’s cuisine to people,” Jay says. “It feels like doing a university degree, pouring all my effort, only to fail at the end.” Starting his own restaurant business from scratch in his late twenties, Jay utilised catering skills acquired since his youth in the Philippines, which was then further honed through learning within the Filipino community in the United Kingdom. Days and nights were spent in the restaurant, sacrificing friendships but dedicating all his time and heart to introduce his family’s food and culture to the British.

Unlike the strong flavours of Middle Eastern curries or the delicate appearance of Chinese buns, Filipino food embodies the tropical island tastes that capture my heart. It carries the freshness, tropicality, and warmth of the welcoming and sunny islands, much like Jay’s smile that greets me every time.

The farewell words are tinged with hope for miracles – the hope to sustain the business, and the Filipino culture in Brighton, a city where Jay considers special and open-minded, and a place where he feels his rebellious spirit and his “naughty” restaurant are right at home.

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