I've written before of my fondness for Gusto Didsbury, a charming venue right on my doorstep that manages to offer a friendly local feel despite being part of the large Living Ventures stable. The staff always remember you (although this might just be a sign I eat there too often), the menu is always interesting, the food is always good and the atmosphere is always buzzy. Best of all, Gusto Didsbury didn't even mind that this Monday lunchtime I was unfaithful, and spent the afternoon flirting and schmoozing with the frankly very beautiful new Gusto Manchester on Lloyd Street; after all, they probably fancy her too.
Gusto Manchester has actually been around for a while, but was a much smaller place by the name of Olive Restaurant and Bar - it's now fully rebranded and an ambitious refurbishment has seen it almost quadruple in size (although to be fair, I estimate that I too have probably done likewise since my last visit). The new venue is simply stunning, with a classy Art Deco feel that is both opulent and welcoming, with plush leather booths, sexy lighting and beautifully laid tables - we particularly admire the lovely wine glasses. The light above our table does cast some interesting shadows in the photos though, so I include a picture of it here in the spirit of naming and shaming, and pointing the finger of blame at anyone but the photographer (me).
The a la carte menu is the same as in other Gustos, and therefore embarrassingly familiar to me. For starters, I have the Fritto Misto of sardine, prawn and squid, served with pan fried garlic polenta, green gazpacho and lemon puree - all the fish is beautifully cooked in a light, crisp batter, but the sardine fillet is the standout element. I'm not sure the polenta adds a great deal, but I'm not a huge fan of this item anyway, finding that it takes the addition a good half pound of butter and Parmesan to render it desirable - this version is, in all honesty, pretty tasty. My friend orders a half portion of Tagliatelle with Prawns, Garlic and Sweet Chilli Tomato Sauce, one of my all-time favourite Gusto dishes and therefore clearly an erroneous choice as I snarf as much of it as I can get my hands on - it's just the right balance of hot and sweet chillies, the prawn-to-pasta ratio is generous and the added rocket gives the dish a nice freshness.
On to the mains, and our heads are turned by the super sexy specials list, which offers a range of tempters unique to this particular Gusto. Really and truly I want the Lobster Thermidor, but feel this is likely to be an inappropriately rich dish for someone who has to do some Christmas shopping after lunch. Instead, I go for the Rosemary Cured Monkfish with lobster sauce and crispy speck ham at £21.75 whilst my friend has the Six Bone Rack of Lamb with Salsa Verde at a slightly heftier £27.75. Both of these require additional side dishes, so between us we order fries, baked rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, French beans with shallots and Italian fried courgettes. These are all excellent, particularly the roast potatoes, but at £3.25 they do undeniably add a considerable expense to main courses that each come in at over £20 on their own. The mains themselves are beautiful to look at - well-portioned plates of good, simple ingredients without too much frippery. The monkfish is firm and meaty and goes well with the rich lobster sauce, and the lamb is perfectly pink and tender. Both dishes are, however, over-salted - the fish is salty even without the presence of the ham, and the salt crust on the lamb has been quite exuberantly applied and would perhaps have benefitted from a lighter touch. This is a shame, as it's the only flaw in what are otherwise impressive dishes.
Obviously I am full, and equally obviously I have dessert anyway. I am talked into the Nutella and Mascarpone Calzone by our very helpful waitress and I will be forever grateful for her persistence in this matter - it is a thing of quite astonishing deliciousness and well worth the fifteen minute wait. My friend orders the lemon Sorbet on the basis that this is a light, modest choice - and it would be, were it not the largest portion of sorbet that either of us has ever seen. Add to this gluttony a bottle of decent Barbera and I have never felt less like looking round the Christmas markets in my life - we could frankly have stayed in this oasis of calm and good taste for the entire day. Will I be leaving my first love, Gusto Didsbury, for her glamorous new relative? No. But I'm sure I can be permitted the occasional fling.
- Gusto Manchester is at 4 Lloyd Street (just off Deansgate), Manchester M2 5AB. We were invited as guests of the restaurant and paid for our wine and for service but not for our food.