Italian food, best friends and spending time in my old home of Manchester; just three of my favourite things. So when you combine these together in the ever so cool setting of Gusto – a fairly recent addition to Manchester’s ever-evolving food scene – I’m one very happy lady indeed.
Diners are enticed at first sight off Deansgate and into Gusto by the majestic chandelier that hangs in the foyer. Once inside, you’re welcomed by a chic brasserie style dining room with a stunning island bar bedecked in stained glass.
Green banquet booths meet formal tables settings and the whole room is aglow with domed table lamps and twinkling lights. The place is designed with an unmistakable 1920s design – think Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly, or The Holborn Dining Room at the Rosewood in London. Except here, we’re swapping boeuf bourguignon and escargot with elegant pasta dishes, colourful antipasti and inventive pizzas.
After a few tipples from the chesterfield-style bar stools, it was all eyes on the menu from our slick leather booth. They had me at the sound of truffle verdi and goats cheese pizzas. And don’t even get me started on how alluring creamy pesto mash and oven baked gnocchi with spicy ‘nduja salami sound. Italian food rarely fails to seduce me – anything that’s seeped in white wine, garlic, pesto and Grana Padano cheese has me salivating more than Pavlov’s dog.
That said, I couldn’t help be drawn to an enticing selection of seafood. From baked fillets of sea bass with roasted pepperonata and drizzled with lemon puree; to a whole salt baked sea bass infused with lemon and Italian herbs, this was closer to dining on the Amalfi Coast than your average Italian joint. This was not a night for Bolognese.
It was a fortunate thing there were four of us because it offered us a half attempt at denting this incredibly varied menu.
While the men tucked into their flavour-packed meatballs, I delved into a bowl of mussels cooked with white wine, cream and garlic. Typically, this moules marinière-style dish is of course, more French than Italian, but on the contrary to what I just said, sometimes you’ve just got to go with what lures you in.
And while the sauce was silky, ever so creamy and comforting – just as it should be – with a healthy whack of garlic; serving me a cremated piece of ciabatta with a bowl full of mussels is just cruel. This dish cried out for huge chunks of French baguette bread to allow me to fully mop up the sauce, however uncouth that may sound (I’m northern, I’m allowed). And after managing to spill the garlic, tomato and cream sauce of my friend’s tiger prawns (delicious but also served with crisp ciabatta), down my bright white top, I decided it was time to down utensils and give up my battle of the sauce. That said, both dishes were downright delicious, and the waitress was ever so lovely in helping me wipe the red splodge out of my top.
For mains, Mr C’s roast lamb rump was a vibrant dish of perfectly pink and tender meat, buttered soy beans and trofiette pasta which hit all the flavour notes.
We three embraced the seafood offerings with the pan-fried whole Dover sole and the roast monkfish (both from the specials menu) and the roast fillet of cod wrapped in prosciutto ham.
You can’t beat the combination of cod and a fine prosciutto ham that brings out the saltiness of the fish. And combined with a pea purée (which in my mind, is flavour heaven with ham and cod) and served with a touch of lemon oil, this was a plate of deliciousness.
The Dover sole was presented as fresh curls of meat (as we asked for it to be filleted), accompanied with artichoke tartare: a simple yet wonderful dish.
The roast monkfish arrived with a pine nut, pomegranate and fregola salad with a decadently silky lobster sauce. These seafood dishes don’t offer the big comforting flavours of Italian meatballs, Gran Padano and pesto, but they are wonderfully light and delicate in flavour, which I could return to again and again.
Desserts here are top notch so leave room.
While the chocolate brownie wasn’t as gooey as hoped, the pistachio ice cream it was served with was lovely, as was the sweet, sour, creamy and crunchy ‘meringuey’ treat that was the strawberry and passion fruit mess.
I would definitely opt for the Baked Alaska again. Not just because it’s presented to you doused in booze and still aglow with a blue flame (be careful not to singe your hair), but because it’s also fruity and delicious with plenty of berry tang.
For those of you bowled over by pure chocolatey indulgence, I’ve saved perhaps the most silencing dish until last – our friend’s nutella and mascarpone calzone with ice cream. Need I say any more? This is a dessert the most disciplined of healthy eaters will be prepared to sin for. Just delicious.
And last but absolutely not least, the wine list at Gusto is worth shouting about. The prices vary from around £16 to £50 with some deliciously crisp sounding whites from Piemonte and the Dolomites to classic Italian reds like the pinot noir and then international wines from New Zealand and further afield. Its divides the wines into North, Central and the South & Islands so if you want to work your way around Italy’s grapes, you absolutely can.
And like a fresh Pinot Grigio, I never tire of Italian. Nor do I get bored of the elegant 30s restaurant style. It’s a winning formula at Gusto: real Italian comfort food topped with five star finesse. You can see why I’m dying for this group of northern restaurants to hurry up and make its journey south.
Until next time x
Thank you to Gusto for hosting Oh So London as part of this review. All views are our own. For more information about Gusto restaurants, visit Gustorestaurants.uk.com.
4 Lloyd Street (off Deansgate), Manchester M2 5AB