Westy-B isn’t a place we venture into very often as we live on the other side of town, but there are a list of gems to find, our favourites being La Storia for authentic, family-run Italian or Escabeche for a tasty take on tapas. We were invited over to see if we can pop Italian chain restaurant Gusto onto that list.
Gusto is an impressive place to walk into, especially in the summer, with a welcoming atmosphere and panoramic bi-fold windows that lead onto an inviting patio. The staff were really friendly and attentive, they gave us some fab recommendations and kept dishes coming swiftly with a smile. This would be a fitting place for a date or special family lunch, or even a cheeky breather as you shop your way down West Bridgford’s high street.
We perused the menu with two of Gusto’s signature gin and tonics, the Orange Sevilla and the Garden of E-gin with cucumber and mint (try and ask for that without sounding like a dick’ed).
Two things really stuck out to us on the starter menu to befit such a sunny evening: the cured meat board with hummus and the calamari (plus, calamari is usually a good yardstick for a restaurant – simple, yet so often done badly and/or lazily).
The meat board looked impressive and was a very generous portion indeed, this plus the good quality justified the £9.95 price tag, for us. Prosciutto, coppa and salami sat next to hummous and warm focaccia, with nocellara olives and sunblushed tomatoes.
The meat tasted of good quality with lots of flavour and there was plenty to share (even though this is a starter for 1!) The hummus was smooth, creamy and garlicky with beautifully soft, slightly warm focaccia. We enjoyed it immensely, it’s a very sociable and relaxed dish that you don’t mind getting your fingers into and sharing with someone lucky.
Next, great news: the calamari were fantastic. We were delighted to see some squid tentacles and hand cut pieces of fresh squid in a light, crisp batter rather than any rubbery, frozen squid rings. They were cooked really well, soft and flavoursome with a crunchy coating and homemade aioli and lemon – close your eyes and let this dish transport you to Spain (okay, I know it’s an Italian restaurant but I’ve never been to Italy. So great calamari reminds me of Spain as a kid!) It’s always a good sign when a restaurant does calamari right. This is the type of easy-going, Mediterranean food we could eat every day, so off to a roaring start.
With a cold bottle of particularly good New Zealand sauvignon blanc, our mains arrived: lamb rump with pea purée, fried polenta and red wine jus, plus chicken breast with pan-fried gnocchi, creamed leeks and a tomato and caper dressing for me. Although they did look great, we resisted the urge to go for the UFO-sized pizzas or a pasta dish because, well, you’ve seen it all before and where’s the fun in that? We always try and show you menu items that are bit different or more unexpected. Plus, our waiter recommended the chicken to us so it would be daft not to!
Although beautifully presented, the portion doesn’t look huge but I assure you I still left satisfied. Pan-fried is the only way to cook gnocchi, in my opinion. It adds a whole new and interesting dimension, you get a crisp coating and soft, pillowy dough inside – lovely (but I could have done with a few more. Chuck a couple more on, eh?) The creamed leeks were indulgent, while still managing to be light, with a subtle onion flavour and creaminess that added depth and comfort to the chicken breast.
Although it looks crunchy in the photo, the chicken skin could have been crispier, but it wasn’t flabby. The chicken itself was soft and it was the excellent-quality olive oil in the tomato and caper dressing that really made this dish sing – it elevated the whole thing and, with the pop of fresh tomato and salty capers, made this dish perfectly summery and quintessentially Italian-tasting. I was very happy with my choice, just crisp up that skin and add a few more gnocchi. Then we’re good to go.
The lamb dish was equally enjoyed by Stu. Although the flavour combinations didn’t push any boundaries, it’s a classic marriage of lamb and pea, done well. The lamb was cooked pink, as requested, and it was a well-rested, tender choice cut with little gristle and lots of lamb flavour that the excellent, shiny jus helped to amplify. Stu didn’t think much of the fried polenta, but I really liked them – that maize-like taste and slight crunch were really nice, so I ate them all for him, muahahah. The pea purée really wasn’t a purée at all, it was somewhere between mushy peas and hummus in texture, which wasn’t unpleasant but there was just a bit too much of it. More red wine jus and slightly less pea would have balanced this dish a little better.
We also had a side dish of rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, which were a bit hit and miss. Some were soft and fluffy and others were overbaked and dry – the flavour was good though. Can’t beat a rosemary and garlic combo!
“Omg”, we thought. “I think I’ve actually got room for… pudding?!” Hell yes, and we even got a dessert each. I couldn’t resist the unique sounding bombolini – sweet dough balls with biscoff sauce and lemon cream. It sounded positively orgasmic and way more interesting than a tiramisu (although that was a close second!) Stu had an affogato.
If you’re not introduced to the delights of affogato, I think it’s the best kept Italian secret over here. You take a bowl of creamy vanilla ice cream, a shot of strong espresso and a shot of amaretto then pour them both into the cold ice cream. The coffee melts the ice cream slightly before it’s chilled and the liquor adds an almondy hit that is just delightful. You end up with a kind of boozy ice cream in a little pool of creamy coffee soup – it’s much better than I can make it sound! Apart from some issues with the cup and bowl used (see video!) it was great when all combined. But a muuuuch bigger bowl and a spout on the espresso next time please, we lost lots on the table!
Not quite a doughnut, not quite a dough ball, these sugary, squidgy bombolini bites were deliciously warm and comforting. And to serve them with melted Biscoff spread? Inspired. There was plenty of caramelised biscuit goo to go around, each bite making my eyes wider and fingers stickier. Lovely stuff. This would be great for sharing as you do get a lot. I wasn’t really bothered with the lemon cream, I can imagine the idea was to add some citrus to cut through the richness, but I don’t feel the flavour worked and it really wasn’t needed. You have to get these though, so cool! Kids would absolutely love them (and big kids…)
We finished our glasses of wine outside on the terrace in the evening sunshine thoroughly satisfied and actually rather impressed with a chain restaurant (this from the fierce supporters of Nottingham independents). We’ve not been very complimentary about Italian chain restaurants before (looking at you, Carluccio’s) but Gusto has definitely topped the charts in that respect. We need to visit La Storia round the corner again soon to compare!
On the a la carte, Gusto can be a little more pricy than your average, but the portions and good quality justify it – there were also other diners taking home half their massive pizzas! For breakfast, we assume. The good news is they do lunch and evening set menus, which are great value and easier on the pocket. This makes Gusto a solid bet for pushing the boat out but also a cheaper bite if you’re just out for a spot of lunch.
Overall, we would definitely come back to Gusto to enjoy some tasty Italian and soak up the lovely atmosphere of the place. There’s pizzas and pasta that we still want to try, and I’m intrigued by the whole salt-baked trout! We had a great experience – I would book ahead as it was very busy, even on a Tuesday!
Atmosphere and surroundings: 9/10
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Emily and Stu.