June 24th, 2014

Gushing for Gustos: My new favourite Quayside establishment

By Calamity Cooking

Thanks to the lovely Lauren Archer over at Scran on the Tyne, I was part of a very lucky bunch of food writers invited to sample the new summer menu at Newcastle's Gustos, as part of the Scran Social.

And my what a mighty spread it was...

Gushing for Gustos: My new favourite Quayside establishment

Even though I've only ever been to Gustos the once, I've always harboured fond memories of it and I'm slightly puzzled as to why it's taken me so long (and a free invitation) to go back.

The last time I was there was for a friend's birthday - an eventful evening when said birthday princess got mortal on red wine, dropped a rather heavy bangle over the balcony on to the table of the diners below, and told the waitress she was "fucking awesome" for bringing us hot chocolates at the end of the meal. She finished the night by telling the whole restaurant the she is "golden". And food was pretty amazing too. We even sent emails afterwards thanking the staff for a fantastic night. And for putting up with the golden birthday girl.

So when Scran on the Tyne Editor Lauren invited me to a summer menu event, my enthusiasm for Gustos meant that I readily accepted. Luckily, the staff didn't seem to remember me.

Things kicked off with an impressive wine tasting, led by the very knowledgeable Jonny. This chap obviously loves his trade and his passion and enthusiasm led a few of us to encourage him to put the idea to Gustos bosses to make wine tasting a bookable evening for guests. I'd certainly sign up.

We sampled a clean, crisp Sauvignon Blanc, followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon Sangiovese. I'm not usually a white wine drinker, and while I enjoyed the clean flavour of the first option, the red was perfect for me. Jonny led us through the tasting, helping us to identify aromas and flavours, and providing an interesting backdrop to wines we were tasting.

We were also privileged to try a very delicious white dessert wine. Again, this is something I wouldn't normally go for, preferring the deep, almost bitter flavours of a red - but I thoroughly enjoyed this aromatic, intensely sweet and sticky Chardonnay. Although I might struggle to drink something like this alongside a dessert, as this has the potential to overload you with sweetness, I'll definitely consider enjoying a glass on it's own at the end of my next Gustos' meal.

Gushing for Gustos: My new favourite Quayside establishment

I'm going to be a bit of a wine boffin here and try to pass on the most interesting fact I took away from this tasting. I learnt that intensely sweet dessert wines get their unique flavour and viscosity from a fungus that infects the vine. Nobel rot, as Jonny explained to an eager crowd of slightly pissed guests, is an unpredictable and uncontrollable vine disease that reduces the skin of the grape, exposing the fruit to more sunlight - and thus producing more sugar. With me? Terribly interesting stuff that I'd never have learnt off my own back, this highly enjoyable session has encouraged me to read the back of wine bottles, before I throw three bottles in the trolley, and learn to understand the flavours I like and those I don't.

You can read more about nobel rot over at Wine Folly.

Happily tiddly (well I was - not sure about the others) we fell on boards of bread, cheese, meat and chutneys that had been placed around the restaurant while we were ignoring the spittoons that had been provided. Too busy chatting about rot, I missed most of these fantastic mezze boards, but managed to grab myself some wonderful blue cheese and crusty bread while I waited in anticipation for the main event.

Gushing for Gustos: My new favourite Quayside establishment

Gustos were very generous in the offering and we were all stunned as staff members ran between the restaurant and the kitchen, filling an enormous table with an array of main dishes from the new summer menu. Here's what was on offer:

A wonderful spicy tomato pasta
Gorgeous creamy penne with chicken, asparagus and peas (seriously, I stole a huge pile of this)
Servings of fresh, crisp salads topped with asparagus and poached eggs, and others adorned with fresh salmon
A selection of fantastic pizzas

As you can probably tell from my penchant for adjectives, there was nothing on the menu that I didn't love. As others who attended have already suggested, the salads on offer have seriously got me reconsidering my typical menu filtering when I'm dining out. Normally, I skip this section with a dismissive "as if", thinking that there's no way I'm going to sacrifice my main for a bowl of leaves. But these fantastically rich dishes, with their delectable dressings and complex flavours have got me firmly on the side of salad.

Gushing for Gustos: My new favourite Quayside establishment

The pastas were perfectly delicious and I wouldn't hesitate to order either. But it's the pizza at Gustos that really stand alone for me. Unique toppings like blue cheese and pork crackling provide a stark contrast to the bog-standard dishes you can get in other parts of Newcastle, while the meaty servings of sardines topping others had me texting my seafood-loving dad under the table to tell him I'd found somewhere in town I needed to take him for a pizza.

A rich crab risotto also made its way to each table, affording each of us a sample of this at our leisure. Again, for lovers of seafood, this is something I'd heartily recommend. I experimented with risotto in my own kitchen recently and enjoyed this so much that I've been inspired to incorporate crab into my next bash at it.

I was rather embarrassed to notice that I happened to be the only person taking photos on my iPhone, while every other attendee looked rather swish their swanky SLR bad boys. So apologies for the lack of great shots. You can however, peruse the culinary musings of Becca and Sarah, who've both took some rather amazing photos.

Sitting nursing my final drops of mango and peach infused dessert wine, I swapped thoughts with my fellow dinners over bowls of Italian mess and warm Bombolini (almost like a churros) with chocolate sauce. Largely, we were talking about when we'd next been heading down to the Quayside to recreate our own Scran Social.

A massive thank you to Gustos and Scran on Tyne for this fabulous afternoon.

Tags: Calamity Cooking, Gusto, Italian, Newcastle, Quayside
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