From virtuous superfood salads to indulgent chocolate sharing desserts, Gusto manages to offer everyone what they want...
The Gusto group of suburban Italian restaurants began in Cheshire in 2005, and have since grown to thirteen restaurants across the UK from city centres (including Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, and Manchester’s Deansgate) to well populated villages (Alderley Edge, Didsbury, Knutsford, Cheadle etc.)
Originally founded by Jeremy Roberts and the late Tim Bacon, from Living Ventures Group, Gusto gained private equity backing from Palatine in 2014. The group now employs over 400 members of staff - many of whom have been there since day one.
They have stuck to their original ethos though of celebrating life’s little moments, making every day extraordinary. It’s remained popular for all sorts of reasons from children’s pizza parties (with wine for the grown-ups) to date nights, and larger group get togethers. It’s easy, it’s friendly, the standard of food is good and its consistency remains, unlike other restaurant brands which have come and gone over the years.
We hadn’t eaten at a Gusto for ages, so we went along to see why it has become such an enduring favourite (and also because the person who invited us mentioned something about chocolate dough petals, but we’ll get to those later.)
Firstly, they’re good-looking restaurants. All elegant dark wood, sleek navy walls, proper tableware and shiny brass touches. There are olive trees festooned with fairy lights and tasteful framed images hanging on bare brick walls – timeless and classic Italian style with none of the obvious cliches.
This contemporary outlook can also be found on the menu which has had a spruce up for spring and summer. Alongside the classic pizza, pasta and main dishes are a few seasonal delights.
Start with a cocktail (well, when in Rome…) Along with aperitivo, signature G&Ts and expected classics you’ll find some new drinks designed for enjoying on the terrace, or for cooling down after a hot day. There is frozen mango margarita, pina colada and a bergamot slush – but slip them slowly to avoid brain breeze.
Many of the starters have been designed for sharing with antipasti boards along with small plates of calamari, prawns, chicken liver pate and meatballs but the star of the starters has to be Gusto Dough Petals™ (£5.50/£5.75). This indulgent tear and share carb fest comes with garlic and parsley butter, there’s plant-based version with tomato, crispy shallots, and homemade Romesco vegan mayonnaise dip or a cheesy meaty one with slow-cooked pork and fennel, caramelised onions and Fior Di Latte mozzarella, served with garlic butter. Tear and share, or just order for one – we’re the last ones to judge.
If you’re a fan of Gusto’s signature dough, you can order a sourdough pizza for main course, but if you’re all doughed out then, on the other end of the scale they offer an excellent Supergrain Salad (£13.95) to which you can add chicken, prawns, or smoked salmon (£16.45) packed with pomegranate, walnuts, sweet potato, soya beans, chickpeas, spelt, greens, and pumpkin seeds.
One of the reasons Gusto is such a popular choice with larger groups is that they have something for everyone from steaks to fish dishes, a huge list of sides and even a classic burger.
Pasta and risotto dishes are also a speciality and range from a hearty three meat lasagne to lighter seasonal dishes including traditional Neapolitan style smoked salmon fettuccine with smoked salmon, peas, dill, chilli and extra virgin olive oil (£14.95.)
If you have any room, there’s also a comprehensive list of desserts – Italians are known for their sweet tooth. But we bypassed the tiramisu, panna cotta, mousses and sorbets because we only had eyes for Biscoff and Chocolate Dough Petals (£12.95) – a sweet ‘twist’ (sorry) on their starter version.
This one really does need to be shared. Perfect for two or more, it arrives with the scent of a German fairy tale - melted chocolate, sugar, butter and freshly baked sweet bread. Just tear off some of the still warm dough and take a bite with a scoop of real Italian gelato Madagascan vanilla ice cream and some of the fresh berries. If you want to wash it down with an espresso martini delux, no one will stop you….
Find your nearest Gusto restaurant and book HERE.