It’s fancy, it’s upmarket and I felt underdressed. Heck, even the website features a group of business-manager-looking men donning their best suits but as grand and elegant as it may be, you’d be forgiven for not realising it’s even there. Tucked down a quaint little side street just off the thriving Deansgate, Gusto Restaurant and Bar rivals even the most premier of Italian eateries in Manchester City Centre.
A £1.3 million transformation saw the Grade-II listed Elliot House turn into the cultivating 200-cover restaurant that became one of the most anticipated openings of 2014. A generous dose of exquisite 1920’s glamour alongside contemporary elegance hints towards Manchester’s local heritage. The bar takes centre stage, a grand island built up to the high ceilings, framed by modish lighting, that will transport you straight to a stylish Downtown Manhattan bar. Perhaps the most unique element - striking evergreens - tower high above diners sat around them, adding a little bit of a faux ‘al fresco’ feel to the experience. The light is low, mellowing the atmosphere, even on a bustling Saturday night, which was a welcome change from the the harsh lighting you see in some places.
Kicking things off with a couple of cocktails, we slurped the Strawberry and kiwi sling (£9) and English 75 (£7.50) as recommended by the lovely staff to complement our tastes. For starters, we went for a good old classic, garlic bread. Gusto’s garlic pizza bread (£4.95) is topped with rosemary and sea salt and is neither too overpowering or too plain.
Moving onto the array of mains, it did take a fair while to decide and the staff were extremely patient with this - even though I was profusely apologising every time they asked if we were ready to order. In the end, as the self-proclaimed lasagne queen, I couldn’t not try out the three-meat homemade lasagne (£12.50), made with the irresistible Gusto five-hour slow cooked ragu and finished off in the pizza oven for a crispy top and an extra oomph of flavour. It may be a bold statement, but it is safe to say that this lasagne was the best I’ve ever had; the meat was tender and it had all the hallmarks of a classic.
My companion opted for the flattened rump steak (£16.75) with garlic, chilli, rocket and gran Moravia, recommended pink. The steak was juicy and cooked to perfection; barely needing a knife to cut it. The cheese is never something I’d really think of putting with steak, but it complemented the dish perfectly. For a side, skin on fries (£3.75) were a great companion. Saving room for dessert (as always), I chose the warm chocolate and hazelnut brownie (£6.50) while my friend went for the sticky toffee pudding (£6.75). Hefty portions and the perfect comfort puddings, they were well worth the price tag and leaving room for.
The menu was jam packed with choice, ranging from your standard Italian dishes (albeit a bit posher- Truffled Funghi pizza (£12.50) and White Crab, Chilli and Garlic Spaghetti (£17.25) are just a couple of them) to some more adventurous sounding fare, including the popular Milanese Saffron Risotto. For the vegans, there is plenty to choose from and one of the best menus I’ve ever seen in terms of choices, with classic Italian choices, such as the Vegano Pizza (£10.50), topped with courgette, pine nuts, caramelised onions, roast peppers, cauliflower rice and rocket.
The DesignMyNight Digest
One to rival even the best of the best in Manchester, Gusto is truly a luscious dining experience with the comfort of your classic dishes alongside fancier meals, meaning whatever your taste, there’s something on there for everyone. Just make sure you’re wearing your best outfit!