There are plenty of reasons to celebrate the coming of Spring. The long, light evenings; the cherry blossom bobbing merrily on the trees; the relaxing sounds of leather on willow along with the promise of Pimm's in the garden; the new series of Game of Thrones. And, of course, the new Gusto menu arrives, with its sexy new dishes and updates to old favourites on what is already a pretty difficult menu to decide what to have from. Still, we can but try, so last week I found a Gusto virgin and took him along to the Didsbury branch to have a look.
This is always a cheery place to visit - it's always busy and bustling and has a great atmosphere and lovely staff (who do, to be fair, recognise me a little too easily these days). I've eaten most of the things off the menu before, so I went for one of the new starters - Deep Fried Salt Cod Ravioli - whilst my friend stared in wonderment at the massive menu for so long that we had to have a cocktail while he chose. In the end he decided on Home Cured Salmon Tartare with Quail Egg, Creme Fraiche and Red Gazpacho, and it turned out to be quite the prettiest dish of the night, with a delicate but punchy flavour that entirely lived up to its head-turning good looks. My ravioli were sturdier than I had imagined - it's a clever idea to use pizza dough but it had lost a little of its softness during the deep frying process. Still, the salt cod filling was excellent in taste and in quantity, and the feisty tomato and caper dressing made this a most enjoyable dish.
On to the mains, and the only real issue of the night. I am a long-term admirer of the Gusto Roast Lamb Rump, which is always served perfectly pink and with just the right amount of crispy fat to give the whole thing both texture and flavour. This incarnation was no exception, and I was also very taken with the new summery accompaniment of buttered soy beans, asparagus and trofiette pasta (also available as a side) - a very good dish indeed. The Gusto virgin wanted steak, and when his 6oz chargrilled fillet steak with garlic butter, roasted vine tomatoes and fries arrived, it certainly looked the part. Alas, his first foray found that the steak was well-done rather than the requested medium. This was dealt with immediately and impeccably - the offending steak was whisked away and replaced as soon as one could reasonably expect with a perfect medium version, and the manager came over to apologise as well. It's an unfortunate thing to happen, especially if there's only two of you, as you essentially each end up eating your mains solo in a kind of food relay - but I'm also a big believer in judging restaurants by how they deal with mistakes and our waiter Nick couldn't really have been more helpful than he was during the entire course of our meal.
We decided to share the new Chocolate Fondue dessert - this is billed as being for two, and - unusually for a sharing dessert - there was actually more than enough for us both. The fondue was the right thickness and not too sweet, and came with little jug of Frangelico to stir in - a great idea for adding both some extra flavour and that certain something that only a good hit of booze can give. Speaking of drinks, Gusto is normally very good for cocktails, and this was certainly the case with the two we had - my friend described his Hazelnut and Fig Martini (fresh fig, lemon juice and hazelnut syrup shaken with Fratello and Martell VS) as "almost chewy, in a really good way", and my Bourbon Old Fashioned was right on the mark as usual. I usually have something Italian from the wine list but we felt the meatiness of our mains required something a little heftier, and the Don David Malbec from Argentina (£27) was perfect - I will definitely order this one again. My only criticism of the Chocolate Fondue dessert is that we'd both have liked more fruit - a lot of the dipping items provided (such as the chocolate brownies) were actually quite rich enough on their own without then dipping them into chocolate sauce as well. This may well be the first and last time I have ever called for more fruit in a pudding, but a few more strawberries wouldn't have gone amiss.
So, not a flawless evening on this occasion, but it's much to Gusto's credit that actually, our overall dining experience was still excellent - as evidenced by the fact that the Gusto virgin is already planning which pizza he wants on his next visit...
- Gusto Didsbury is at 756 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury M20 2DW; tel 0161 445 8209. We were invited in as guests of the restaurant and did not pay for our food or drink on this occasion, but I am a regular here and am happy to hand my dosh over to them at least every few weeks.