February 18th, 2015

Food review: Gusto, Manchester city centre

By Paul Ogden, Manchester Evening News.

Testing out one of the most eagerly awaited city centre openings of last year - the latest restaurant in the burgeoning Gusto chain

Food review: Gusto, Manchester city centre

BACK in the day, an Italian restaurant was always THE place to go on Valentine's Day.

A dark corner table, faces lit by the flickering glow of a candle jammed into a Chianti bottle with more splatter than a plasterer's radio; the recorded croonings of a 50-year-old Latin lothario singing in the language of lurve and, of course, the suggestive pepper grinders.

It was the odds-on winner against the surly service of your local Chinese restaurant, the curry house where there was the threat of bumping into her mates - or worse, yours - Thai hadn't yet made it outside London and the only British food was to be found at the pub - a romantic no-no.

But over the past couple of decades, this safe northern stereotype has been smashed and with it the certainty of picking the right place for a February 14 dinner.

Would Gusto be a good bet? On paper it sounds promising. A £1.3m makeover to turn the gorgeous Grade II-listed Elliot House into a place with a European grand cafe vibe and a promise from the owners to give rivals Rosso and San Carlo a run for their money in becoming a the city's premier sophisticated Italian restaurant.

That is backed up with the reassurance of a brand which has been successful in a string of posh Cheshire towns and a history associated with the gold-plated Living Ventures set-up.
'Since last summer's demise of Stock, the city has been crying out for an Italian that is solid and classy - especially if you are not keen on celeb haunts'

But like all romantic meals, what works on paper sometimes doesn't work in reality and for a Valentine's date Gusto doesn't really have that oh so important chemistry.

Don't get me wrong, I like the place. But this is a restaurant you'd be better taking your accountant to than your lover.

Maybe Gusto recognises this because tomorrow it is trying to spice things up with a offer of a tie-up - almost literally - with a cinema, offering tickets to see the film 50 Shades Of Grey alongside a lunchtime meal.

Rather than a grand cafe, which summons up visions of high ceilings, gilt, crystal and mirrors, Manchester's Gusto feels more like a up-market brasserie from a US East Coast finance district.

The solid parquet floor, tan leather booths, luxurious marble table tops, all that brass and a great-looking, square central bar with touches of art deco styling, just ooze the quality needed to lure business deal lunches.

There is a place for the regular punter, too. Since last summer's demise of Stock, the city has been crying out for an Italian that is solid and classy - especially if you are not keen on celeb haunts.

There is a lot to go at on the menu. Twelve types of pizza, all the classic pasta dishes as well as some less common ones - white crab, chilli, garlic and lemon spaghetti; butternut squash ravioli with cavolo nero - a full roster of mains and some swanky specials which are only available at the chain's Lloyd Street venue.

BACK in the day, an Italian restaurant was always THE place to go on Valentine's Day.

A dark corner table, faces lit by the flickering glow of a candle jammed into a Chianti bottle with more splatter than a plasterer's radio; the recorded croonings of a 50-year-old Latin lothario singing in the language of lurve and, of course, the suggestive pepper grinders.

It was the odds-on winner against the surly service of your local Chinese restaurant, the curry house where there was the threat of bumping into her mates - or worse, yours - Thai hadn't yet made it outside London and the only British food was to be found at the pub - a romantic no-no.

But over the past couple of decades, this safe northern stereotype has been smashed and with it the certainty of picking the right place for a February 14 dinner.

Would Gusto be a good bet? On paper it sounds promising. A £1.3m makeover to turn the gorgeous Grade II-listed Elliot House into a place with a European grand cafe vibe and a promise from the owners to give rivals Rosso and San Carlo a run for their money in becoming a the city's premier sophisticated Italian restaurant.

That is backed up with the reassurance of a brand which has been successful in a string of posh Cheshire towns and a history associated with the gold-plated Living Ventures set-up.
'Since last summer's demise of Stock, the city has been crying out for an Italian that is solid and classy - especially if you are not keen on celeb haunts'

But like all romantic meals, what works on paper sometimes doesn't work in reality and for a Valentine's date Gusto doesn't really have that oh so important chemistry.

Don't get me wrong, I like the place. But this is a restaurant you'd be better taking your accountant to than your lover.

Maybe Gusto recognises this because tomorrow it is trying to spice things up with a offer of a tie-up - almost literally - with a cinema, offering tickets to see the film 50 Shades Of Grey alongside a lunchtime meal.

Rather than a grand cafe, which summons up visions of high ceilings, gilt, crystal and mirrors, Manchester's Gusto feels more like a up-market brasserie from a US East Coast finance district.

The solid parquet floor, tan leather booths, luxurious marble table tops, all that brass and a great-looking, square central bar with touches of art deco styling, just ooze the quality needed to lure business deal lunches.

There is a place for the regular punter, too. Since last summer's demise of Stock, the city has been crying out for an Italian that is solid and classy - especially if you are not keen on celeb haunts.

There is a lot to go at on the menu. Twelve types of pizza, all the classic pasta dishes as well as some less common ones - white crab, chilli, garlic and lemon spaghetti; butternut squash ravioli with cavolo nero - a full roster of mains and some swanky specials which are only available at the chain's Lloyd Street venue.

I started with a fritto misto of sardine, prawn and squid (£6.50), deep fried but still allowing their flavour to shine on a patty of polenta, which came deep fried too, where an alternative method would have added some needed variety. Trails of green gazpacho and lemon puree prettified it on the plate.

My companion - not my accountant - tried the home-cured salmon tartare (£6.95) and quails egg, crème freche and more of that green gazpacho that the kitchen likes. He declared it a little insipid but the exquisite poached egg gave it a pleasing lift.

I wanted to try the meat. I reckon Gusto and the new Hawksmoor restaurant set to open in spring over the road on Deansgate will be going horn-to-horn in the steak stakes.

My fillet with cavolo nero (Italian cabbage), roast garlic and that polenta again was a decent meal at £24.95 and no sides needed - with a good depth to the red wine sauce.

My recent visit to one of Hawksmoor's venues in London cost me a tenner more for a similar steak, so it will be interesting to see the pricing when they open up here. Hawksmoor's Ginger Pig-sourced steak just edged it taste-wise, though.

My friend had the 10oz rib eye (£16.95), which looked a treat but was more rare than required and he felt the truffle butter was a little underpowered.

Desserts are moreish and filling rather than dainty and exquisite with our waitress recommending the sweet vanilla ‘risotto' (£5.95) "which tastes of Milky Way!".

Guess what? It did, and was a retro treat as opposed to the functional but perfectly fine ginger pannacotta (£4.95) over the table.

A solid, reliable restaurant then, with a meal that won't startle, and a bill that won't get your accountant hot under the collar.

4 Lloyd Street, Manchester, M2 5AB gustorestaurants.uk.com/restaurants/manchester/ 0161 832 2866

 

Tags: Gusto, Manchester, Manchester Evening News
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GUSTO ~ Restaurant and Bar: Italian for taste and enjoyment
Inspired by the elegant charm of a classic Italian ristorante with a contemporary buzz and a modern, stylish interior, GUSTO brings the true "taste and enjoyment" of Italy to our guests.

GUSTO - it's all a matter of taste!