Our Kelly Gilmour-Grassam discovers a finer side of Italian cuisine at Gusto Manchester…
In a word:
Anyone craving a generous dollop of star treatment, without the hefty bill to show for it.
Overlooking the busy hubbub of Deansgate sits the beautiful Elliot House, in which you’ll find the rather grand yet surprisingly underrated Gusto Manchester.
Escorted through reception into the magnificent dining hall beyond, we were immediately drawn to the focal point of the room: a decadent island bar, in traditional European design, the centre of all activity.
For a blustery autumn night, the warm hues of the mottled mirrors and plush leather booths made for a cosy yet elegant escape. As plenty of others had the same idea, it wasn’t soon before the buzz of conversation filled the room’s high ceilings.
Drinking in the atmosphere and working our way through the menu took some time. Thankfully we had a heap of olives to keep us company as we browsed the comprehensive broadsheet menu.
Even if there had been fewer options, it would have been hard to narrow them down… everything sounded so tempting.
Hand-rolled meatballs – £6.50
Think spaghetti sounds like comfort food? Try sinking hand-rolled meatballs in a rich tomato sauce, coating with molten cheese and swapping the pasta for grilled ciabatta.
I could easily have eaten this as a meal in itself, so imagine my delight as I tucked into such a satisfying starter before the main course had even arrived…
Mussels in white wine, cream and garlic – £8.25
Seafood lovers will find a home in Gusto; there’s an assortment of options scattered across the menu. Mussels are a good litmus test of any seafood-serving restaurant, and this dish truly surpassed expectations. The chef certainly didn’t pull any punches with the ingredients: be warned, garlic breath ahead!
Slow cooked pork belly – £14.50
It’s hard to go wrong with pork belly, but also challenging to give it a fresh spin. Here, the combination of fried gnocchi with the apple sauce and red wine jus intrigued us enough to order.
Sure enough, the meat melted in the mouth, while the quaver-like crackling fizzled on the tongue… the gnocchi met somewhere in the middle with a crisp, doughy texture that really brought the whole thing together.
Chargrilled fillet steak 6oz – £21.95
Hello old friend… it may seem predictable to order steak at a ‘fancy’ restaurant, but, like mussels, there really are few better ways to judge the calibre of the kitchen. Again, Gusto kept the bar high with a delicate-yet-delicious fillet steak, served with garlic butter and juicy vine tomatoes.
Switching the fries for truffle chips, with a side of rocket and parmesan salad to boot, it was a triumph for the carnivore within.
Warm chocolate and hazelnut brownie – £6.25
Perhaps the only niggle of our visit was that two of Gusto’s (evidently) best desserts were sold out when our turn rolled around. But you can’t have your cake and eat it, right?
Settling for the less adventurous but equally indulgent brownie, this warm, nutty treat was topped with pistachio ice cream and chocolate sauce, making it a lick-the-plate-clean comforter for a cold autumn night.
Lemon sorbet – £4.50
Wafer thin mint anyone? Sorbet? Oh okay, if you insist. Kidding ourselves that a palate cleanser was necessary, we decided to sample the lemon sorbet. This Italian classic summed up the standard of Gusto’s food in an ice cream bowl – authentic, simple and decadent in spoonfulls.
Gusto has a vast drinks menu that truly does cover all bases, from wine and cocktails right the way through to digestifs. On this occasion, we skipped the cocktails (although it’s 241 Mon-Fri from 5-7pm, I should add!) and went straight to the wine.
A dry white wine with soft yet distinct flavours, Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc (£29, bottle) hailed from the Malborough region of New Zealand. It was the perfect softener for the bold flavours of the mussels and pork, while warming nicely to the beef.
Tucking into dessert, we couldn’t help but be tempted by the prospect of digestifs – a Baileys for the brownie and a dash of limoncello to complement the sorbet. Could there be a more perfect end to a meal?
Gusto might not attract the same level of exposure as nearby competitors like (ahem) Hawksmoor, but it certainly shares the same arena. It would be misleading to call a restaurant with 16 branches nationwide a hidden gem. That said, it’s hard to believe Gusto Manchester has slipped under our radar for so long. From special occasions to weeknight drinks, this bar and restaurant makes star treatment a standard affair.
4 Lloyd Street
Tel: 0161 832 2866