Gusto Restaurants, which is part of the Living Ventures group, have 12 Italian restaurants in the UK, spanning from Edinburgh to the north to Birmingham in the ‘south’, but mostly located across the north of England. The cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Nottingham all have one, as does Manchester, the city we were visiting for the weekend.
On entering Gusto Manchester, with its entrance adorned with a plant installation, we were warmly welcomed by two ladies behind a reception desk who made a note of our reservation details before we were taken to our table. Reservations are not required, but are recommended at busy times. Despite being quite a large venue, it can get very busy at peak times.
Within the walls of this classic Grade II Listed building is quite a large restaurant (8,000 sq ft), opened in 2014 following a £1.3m makeover, with a variety of seating options and an island bar with a patterned marble counter that takes center stage (where you could sit and have a drink if you were waiting for a table).
Although we were dining in the mid-afternoon (ahead of an evening show), the restaurant had a quiet buzz about it.
Diners are able to see into the display kitchen at one corner of the restaurant. There is also a private dining room at the venue, suitable for special celebrations.
We visited on a Sunday for which there is a special Sunday menu. I assume this to be similar to the regular menu – it included a wide selection of dishes but had a highlighted section entitled ‘The Gusto Roasts’ that included the usual meat roasts with all the trimmings, as well as a vegetarian option (a Mushroom & Red Wine Pudding which is served in a suit crust).
The menu includes calorie information, a new government requirement for larger restaurants, an initiative embraced by Gusto Manchester.
As a party of five, we were able to sample a number of different dishes. Our starters included the Caesar Salad (pictured here without anchovies due to a personal preference) which can also be ordered as a main, and with chicken as an optional extra.
Between us we also sampled the Chicken Liver Pâté which came with a tasty caramelised red onion chutney and warm toasted focaccia bread…
…the King Prawn Bucatini in a sweet chilli tomato sauce finished with fresh lemon and rocket, a good choice for those with a hearty appetite…
…and the Crispy Lemon & Pepper Calamari which had a wonderfully light and crispy tempura batter and was accompanied by a lemon mayonnaise.
Moving on to the mains, I have it on good authority that Gusto’s Classic Burger – a British chuck burger with caramelised onion, pecorino cheese (but pictured here without), tomato, lettuce, relish and gherkin, with skin-on fries (or a house salad), and with the added pancetta, was particularly succulent.
A vegan alternative is available with a ‘Moving Mountains’ burger and homemade Romesco vegan mayonnaise and vegan mozzarella.
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The pizzas are cooked in wood-fired ovens, apparently using a dough recipe inherited from a Tuscan monk. The bases are light and airy, with a distinct authenticity about them. Pictured below are the Truffle Bianco Pizza (a white base with truffle paste, portobello mushrooms and Fior Di Latte mozzarella topped with rocket and Gran Moravia cheese and – my choice – the very flavoursome Caprino Pizza (with DOP San Marzano tomato, goat’s cheese, roasted) red peppers, pine nuts, sweet onions, pesto, Fior Di Latte mozzarella and rocket).
The Truffled Mushroom Fettuccine also caught my eye and I’d be tempted to choose that next time. It comes with oyster, chestnut and button mushrooms and tarragon, and is pictured here with a good sprinkling of Parmesan. It can also be had as a starter, and comes with the option to add chicken.
For dessert, I had the Chocolate Espresso Martini Mousse – a whipped chocolate and coffee mousse with a ginger biscuit base topped with Chantilly cream – which was light and, for a non-coffee drinker such as myself, with a sufficiently light coffee flavour.
The Italian Gelato Ice Cream is also to be recommended. You can choose from chocolate, salted caramel or strawberries & cream flavours, or go for the more simple Madagascan vanilla.
Chocolate lovers will be tempted by the Warm Chocolate Brownie which comes served with salted caramel gelato ice cream and a dark chocolate sauce.
Other options included: Biscoff and Chocolate Dough Petals (to share) – a ‘twist’ on their regular Dough Petals with real Italian gelato Madagascan vanilla ice cream and fresh berries; tiramisu; Vanilla Panna Cotta served with oranges marinated in Marsala wine; and Amaretto Crème Brûlée served with fresh berries.
Gusto Manchester can be found at 4 Lloyd Street, Manchester M2 5AB, which is just off Deansgate. On street parking is avilable on Lloyd Street or Q-Park (Piazza), St James Street. At the recommendation of Gusto in advance of our visit, we actually parked at the Manchester Great Northern NCP car park a little further away, because it is also handy for the Manchester Opera House which we were visiting afterwards.
Starters ranged from £5.75 (Rigatoni Arrabbiata) to £13.25 (Pan-Seared King Scallops).
Mains ranged from £10.95 (Pizza Margherita) to £32.95 (8oz Fillet Steak). Gusto’s Steak Experience costs £100 but is for two people and includes a bottle of A Mano ‘Prima Mano’ Primitivo wine.
Desserts ranged from £5.50 (Italian gelato ice cream or sorbet) to £7.25 (a number of different desserts).
The final verdict
Gusto Manchester offers great value for money for authentic Italian food, with an extensive and varied menu. Service was very attentive without being overly-intrusive. The restaurant has a nice buzz about it and we would particularly recommend this venue for pre-show dining for anyone attending events at the Manchester Opera House (3 min walk) or Royal Exchange Theater (7 min walk). It is also handy for pre- or post-cinema dining with the Everyman and Odeon cinemas both within a 5-minute walk.
Disclosure: Our visit was sponsored by Gusto Restaurants.