With fifteen branches of Gusto across the UK, and three more due to open in 2017, the brand is one of Living Ventures most successful. The contemporary/ Italian influenced menu appeals to a wide demographic with something on there for everyone.
I’ve always found Gusto a bit more corporate looking than their other brands, with less quirk or eclectic fittings. A bit more impersonal maybe. But I often visit their Cheadle Hulme restaurant as it’s a good all-rounder for all the family and their different needs with a fair price-point that doesn’t break the bank or restrict your visits to ‘special occasions only’.
Having said this, I was put off going to the one in Manchester by a distinctly average lunch on my last visit at the beginning of this year.
We visited the Manchester branch again recently to try their new winter a la carte menu. It was only one o’clock and the place was already busy with the interior warmed up by the biggest selection of baubles and decorations I’ve seen since Paddy McGuinness switched on the Christmas lights. Their classic pasta and pizza sections looked unchanged, but in some of the starters, mains and seafood dishes you can see the introduction of some extra winter warmers and seasonal produce.
From the very extensive cocktail menu we tried Honey Rise Martini (£8.50) which tasted good with its Cocchi Rosa vermouth and apricot conserve, but had far too much honey in it making it too thick to drink and losing that whole clean martini feel. Elderflower Negroni was much better, a lighter version of your classic negroni with an unusually satisfying twist from the addition of elderflower liqueur, a great pre-dinner drink.
You can tell it was cold outside because for starters we both opted for creamy winter warmer food. My companion’s creamed garlic mushrooms (£5.75) were little button mushrooms with so much gorgeous garlic in their creamy sauce I was glad we weren’t on a date.
More garlic came courtesy of the chargrilled artisan garlic bread. My creamed cauliflower soup was a notch better though with its crispy shallots and chilli oil. Delicious, decadent, rich and smooth, we both loved this and I know he secretly wished he’d ordered it too.
Main courses were more neck and neck. Slow cooked pork belly (£14.50) with fried gnocchi, pork crackling and apple sauce looked cooked a bit under on arrival. The pork was actually cooked perfectly, the slow cooking evident as it fell off our forks. It could have done with more of that lovely gnocchi on the plate though, and proper crackling. This was that artificial type nonsense I’m sure they picked up in Chinatown. Not good enough! But a cracking dish all the same.
Oven baked fillet of cod (£12.50) was another superb main. Wrapped in Tuscan ham, the cod was chunky and beautifully handled, and I loved the accompanying pepperoni lentils.
The side dishes were fantastic. I wanted to take home a whole vat of the buttered mashed potato with pesto (£3.50) and eat it in front of the fire – if I had one. And I would definitely order the truffled fries (£3.95) again. The healthy side came courtesy of spinach with cream (£3.95) which was simple but effective.
Service from the lovely maria was exceptional from start to finish.
We drank a very good Chardonnay Arinto Pinot Blanc (£5.50 175ml) which was one of my favourites at this price point. Less successful was the Barbera Riva Leone (£5.50 175ml) we drank with our mains – one of those ‘meh’ red wines. Nothing memorable and wish I’d stuck with the white.
We were pretty full after all that potato but decided to share a pud. Nutella and mascarpone calzone (£6.25) looked the dogs, but the pastry could have been better as it was pretty tough to cut. Also a bit more mascarpone and a bit less Nutella would have been better, but it satisfied our sweet hit as we waddled back to work.