Just another day at the office, I sauntered down to Greek Street, not for souvlaki and ouzo but to sample from Gusto’s Italian/British menu- an Aperol spritz it is then! Greeted by sumptuous décor; parquet flooring, light encrusted olive trees and a rather daring shade of emerald leather, Gusto’s certainly creates the impression of modern luxury. So how did the menu measure up?
We were spoiled for choice with starter dishes, as we all scrabbled to get shots of the food before it got cold. Gusto’s food certainly ticks off the Instagram-able checklist, with a salmon tartare that concealed a perfect little quail’s egg, oozy upon breaking open. The tartare was wonderfully fresh and zingy, accompanied by a summery red gazpacho. Following the sea food theme came an incredible fritto misto, a kind of ramped up approach to calamari, with prawn, sardine, and calamari all coated in a light and crisp batter and served with a spiced tomato mayonnaise. The seafood champ for me though was the tiger prawn dish with a garlicy tomato béchamel coating juicy prawns. The sauce was certainly of the more-ish variety, and I was told proudly that this was one of the most popular starters. It came with a pleasant looking grilled ciabatta slice or two but this was forgotten about in favour of the garlic dough petals, which are exclusive to Gusto. Why choose garlic when you can choose more garlic? The petal folds allowed for a more generous coating of garlic butter, which was perfect to mop up the tiger prawn sauce. This was all washed down, or should I say demurely sipped, with another delicious cocktail from the menu, which covers both the classic Italian favourites, like the Aperol spritz (which is accompanied by several other ‘spritz’ options on the menu), or a Classic Bellini, which is featured as part of the ‘Flutes’ selection. I chose a Signature Cherry and Coconut sour, which tasted like an adult cherry coke with an unconventional coconut twist. The cocktail menu is so extensive that a separate cocktail tasting visit to Gusto is a must.
The main courses came accompanied with a bit of theatre; the baked salt sea bass presented in its salt crystal casing. The fish is coated with water so that the salt lightly seasons the bass as it bakes. The waiting staff patiently cracking the casing apart also provided some dinner entertainment, revealing the softest whole fish you could imagine. Feathery and delicate in taste and texture, the salt complemented but didn’t overwhelm the dish. Sides do come separate to the fish but a portion of fluffy garlic and rosemary potatoes should sort you out.
The controversial option came in the form of a rather green pizza; The Truffle Verdi. Swapping the conventional tomato sauce for a smooth pea base, with red chard, courgette, goat’s cheese and a truffle drizzle, the pizza makes for a very summery option. If a pizza could be refreshing then it would probably look like this. Swapping the stodge of meat or a thick crust, it would make a perfect lunchtime option. Although not a lamb fan, the rack presented to us was undoubtedly impressive, cooked pink and tender in the middle, which is standard at Gusto. The vegetarian-friendly tortellini came stuffed with artichokes, with yet more crispy and salted wafers of artichoke on top of the dish- Gusto, if you’re reading this, I would seriously consider selling these little fellows as part of the Antipasti.
Although a nationwide chain, with a total of 12 individual restaurants, Gusto operates under the mind set of an independent, where management and staff treat their branch as their own. The décor is sumptuously in line with the vintage, cosmopolitan feel of the brand but Leeds clearly has its own personality. Gusto has an ethos that champions quality; morning taste tests, obligatory waiting staff exams, and seasonal produce dictating the menu, ensuring it stands above the rest in quality.
On to dessert and with five options on offer, the sweet toothed of us were rubbing our hands together with childish glee. A velvety baked Alaska came in flaming form, easily shared amongst a few diners. Its distant cousin meringue came as a sort of Eton Mess, with strawberry, passion fruit and cream concealed within a glorious strawberry meringue sandwich. Crispy then chewy, just as it should be, the classic dish needs no deconstruction, though it was certainly demolished by our forks. Nutella fans rejoice! Gusto comes up trumps with their Nutella and mascarpone calzone, which is certainly not stingy with everyone’s favourite hazelnut spread. Similarly Italian, their cannoli is traditional, the mascarpone not too dense and overbearing, bejewelled with chopped pistachio and pomegranate seeds. The most well received dish was probably the chocolate fondue, into which I gleefully dipped Italian doughnuts, black syrupy cherries, biscotti and nut brownies, the molten chocolate served in a delightful copper saucepan.
Gusto sprinkle even a simple (or in our case rather extravagant) lunch with a little bit of Italian luxury, making them the perfect spot for a special occasion. They carve a distinctly high end path in a city where street food and casual dining is championed, getting back to the idea of formal dining where you can make a few indulgences.