Urban chic. The term conjures images of expensive warehouse conversions, exposed riveted cast-iron girders, concrete floors, yuppies with acquired champagne tastes… But while Gibraltar’s first ‘urban eatery’ borrows visually from this imagery, at its core – the food – it is a friendly and welcoming restaurant offering traditional dishes at moderate prices, and designed for a wider market than that shaping urban chic.

Nunos at the Express, which occupies the ground floor of the Holiday Inn Express but is a separate entity, sprang from the experiences of globe-trotting local entrepreneur Bruno Callaghan. His business travels have taken him to a gamut of hotels and restaurants – good and bad – in the Americas, Europe and the Orient, shaping a service philosophy at whose core lie a friendly, comfortable ambience, good quality and affordability. Criteria which the new urban eatery meets in spades.

It is all starkly modern… yet unexpectedly comfortable and welcoming.

Combining ‘chic’s’ modern decor – the exposed girders, air-ducts and even a hint of bare brick walls – with a menu typical of an Italian trattoria’s, Europe’s first such ‘urban eatery’ took shape in Devil’s Tower Road little more than a year ago. And, in a way, it symbolises the renaissance of an ill-defined area that for decades was a semi-industrial sprawl dotted with unfashionable blocks of flats.

Though Nuno’s at the Express takes its name from its fashionable and more costly counterpart in the Caleta Hotel – which is generally regarded as one of the Rock’s best places to wine and dine – the ‘urban eatery’ caters to a different, and growing, clientele. It offers no fancy dishes with ‘foreign’ names difficult to pronounce – just honest Italian food well-prepared and attentively served in pleasantly modern surroundings.

Honest Italian food, well-prepared and attentively served.

“When the family decided to go ahead and build a proposed Holiday Inn Express on Devil’s Tower Road, we realised that although the former industrial area was becoming increasingly residential – there was no restaurant to serve the growing population of home owners,” Callaghan explains. “There were at least 2,000 residents in the apartment blocks which have sprung up in the area. And in the year since the restaurant opened that number has continued to grow.”

“We wanted something different, hence the ‘urban’ look of an old warehouse conversion with the services and metal girders exposed although, the reality is that it was all newly built.”

Red and black dominate the decor, and against the ‘distant’ blacks of the true ceiling, suspended air-ducts and imitation girders gleam in silver, while mock bare bricks grace the chimney wall of the pizza oven – it is all starkly modern… yet unexpectedly comfortable and welcoming.

“Though Nuno’s as a brand name is recognised as standing for quality, it also suggests ‘expensiveness’, and no way did we want to duplicate it,” Callaghan adds. “From the outset, value for money, good food reasonably priced, and a comfortable environment while providing something different – in both menu and decor – has been at the core.”

The food is defiantly Italian – pastas of every shape and variety as well as colours and flavours; risottos and pizzas with a selective range of toppings dominate the menu as veal dominates the traditional meat dishes. The pastas – fresh daily – are made on the premises and supply not only Nuno’s at the Caleta, but also the recently-opened delicatessen, which forms part of the entrance to the restaurant. This offers not only fresh take-away pizzas and pasta, but pasta to take home and cook as well as a range of Italian sauces to accompany it.

[Though for me pride of place must go to the delicatessen’s traditional Venetian desert: tiramisu – better than any I have tasted in its home city of Venice, or elsewhere in Italy, save perhaps on the roof terrace of the Hotel Diana in Rome. In both places, a dish to die for.]

In a world of steadily rising prices and the need to budget we all face, the attraction of knowing that for £20 a head one can enjoy good food in comfort is clear, though it is still in the exploratory stages.

Although there are synergies, all three of the Callaghan operations – the Holiday Inn, the Caleta Hotel and Nuno’s at the Express – are run as separate entities. And, unexpectedly, far more of the Holiday Inn’s customers are using the hotel’s own restaurant in preference to Nuno’s at the Express.

“I expected that between 10 to 20 per cent of the Inn’s guests would eat here at the Express, but we haven’t had anything like those numbers…Though I suppose it shows that the hotel’s restaurant is performing better than I expected,” says manager Franco Ostuni.

Nevertheless the ‘urban eatery’ continues to grow in custom and popularity and has more than justified the hopes of Callaghan and his team.

Try it. You’ll enjoy it.