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Edinburgh restaurant review: Gusto – A stylish take on Italian, just right for summer

Salmon tartare on a plate.
Summery Salmon tartare.

I love new things. I am probably what marketing people would refer to as an “early adopter”; the sort of person who laps up the latest technology, queueing to be first to purchase a “just released” gadget. Well, I would be, were it not for the fact that sometimes I get a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice that’s available these days. Plus, I actually like to wait a wee while to see how a new arrival beds in, before I will give it a try.

This approach often applies to my choice of restaurants, as much as technology. Which probably explains why I hadn’t got round to dining at Gusto, despite the Edinburgh branch of this chain of Italian restaurants being open for a few years now. However, last week I was invited by a friend of a friend – who happens to be part of Gusto Edinburgh’s management team – to sample their new spring and summer menu. Try something new? Yes please!

Warm aparagus salad with a Caesar sauce.
Tasty asparagus with a Caesar sauce.

Pass through Gusto‘s, somewhat unassuming, George Street frontage and you enter a large, stylish dining space which is simply and tastefully decorated in black and white. Forgoing faux-rustic Italian adornments, the restaurant is decked with banks of arty monochrome photographs, stylish lighting, and furniture that has a timeless, classic-design feel. It’s a look that wouldn’t be out of place in a trendy Milanese eatery.

Seated in a comfy semi-circular booth towards the open kitchen (always a good sign if it’s possible to see one’s food being prepared) JML and I were offered an aperitif whilst we browsed the – very extensive – menu. A kir royale and a basilico (a cocktail mixing gold rum and apricot liqueur with amaretto, lemon and fresh basil) really hit the spot. So too did the tasty, warm focaccia and marinated olives that accompanied our drinks.

Now I’ve already mentioned that Gusto‘s menu is expansive, featuring antipasti, pasta and risotto, pizza, as well as Italian-inspired salads, and mains based around seafood and meat. So being there to try what was new for summer, we called on the help of our – very knowledgeable – server, who promptly directed us to over a dozen dishes.

Roast chicken, summer vegetables and lemon butter.
Chicken perfection with summer veg & lemon butter.

Deliberations complete, we conveyed our food choices, and ordered a bottle of northern Italian Trebbiano/Chardonnay to accompany them. But we were both out of, and in, luck with the wine. A rotation of what was stocked in the cellar meant our first choice wasn’t currently available, yet an alternate, comparable crisp white was immediately suggested. Plainly, the front of house really knows its way round the menu and wine list. In fact, all the front of house staff we encountered – and our server, Emma, in particular – were really knowledgeable and engaging.

Our antipasti arrived promptly, and looked very appetising. It tasted just as good. JML’s asparagus and baby leaf salad with Caesar dressing featured half a dozen perfectly cooked spears adorned by a rich (but not heavy) sauce laden with savoury Parmesan and anchovy flavours, which was a perfect partner to the fresh grassiness of the asparagus. The accompanying chunky hearts of baby little gem lettuce, however, seemed a bit lost amongst the intense flavours provided by the other ingredients – maybe lightly braising them might have been the tweak they needed.

Lobster and prawn spaghetti.
Luxurious lobster and prawn spaghetti.

I rarely order salmon when dining out, but was intrigued by the home cured salmon tatare and quail’s egg with crème fraiche and green gazpacho. It was an excellent choice. Served up was a sumptuous disk of finely chopped salmon, not only bursting with fish flavour, but also citrus and dill from the cure. Add to this the creaminess of the crème fraiche with the soft-centred egg, and the spring-fresh taste of the gazpacho, the overall combination proved to be a delightfully accomplished starter.

Seafood was also at the centre of JML’s main, in the form of a luxurious-sounding lobster and prawn spaghetti in tomato sauce. I wondered if the shellfish might be a bit overwhelmed by the rest of the ingredients, but this wasn’t the case at all. The pasta was fresh and really well cooked, the tomato sauce was light and well flavoured with a touch of chili and garlic, all of which allowed the sweet seafood flavours provided by the lobster and prawns to really shine through.The combination was simply clever and delicious.

A "Gusto Bellini"
“Gusto Bellini” – bravissimo!

My roast chicken breast with summer vegetables and a lemon butter was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, I really liked the sound of the summery flavours; and secondly, chicken breast can be a litmus test for the competence of a kitchen, as it can be very easy to over-cook. Well, Gusto‘s kitchen certainly passed the test with flying colours. The chicken had a lovely crisp skin and beautifully succulent flesh. The batons of vegetables it sat atop were tasty and cooked to slightly al dente, which I really liked. The lemon butter sauce was luxuriant and citrusy, without overwhelming the dish. Perfect summer flavours, especially when combined with the sweet-earthy-saltiness of my side of sautéed fagioli beans with pancetta and balsamic glaze.

I have to say that I wasn’t surprised when JML declared that, in terms of pudding, he was going to choose the chocolate mousse with salted caramel and cappuccino cream. Served in a cup to cleverly mimic a frothy coffee, this was lovely and rich, with deep chocolate being really well accented by the saltiness of the caramel and the creamy java hit. My Gusto Bellini was really a melding of both a sweet and a cocktail, consisting of peach and Prosecco jelly served in a champagne saucer and topped with a Prosecco foam. It was simultaneously light, fruity and fizzy; a really elegantly splendid way to conclude the meal.

Chocolate mousse with salted caramel and cappuccino foam.
Chocolate-caramel mousse disguised as a cappuccino.

So, having now test-driven Gusto‘s summer menu I suppose the question that is going begging is “would I return as a paying customer?” The answer to that is “most definitely.” I was impressed not only with what we sampled, but also the look of the other dishes as they flew from the kitchen to be served to the ladies who lunch, thirty-something couples, and groups of trendy young students that were our fellow diners.

I have eaten at another Italian-inspired restaurant on George Street, one that has “celebrity” associations and is a bit brassy and brash in emphasising its “Italian” credentials. Frankly, I was a somewhat underwhelmed by my whole experience there. By contrast, Gusto certainly hits the spot in terms of its stylishly-relaxed continental vibe, and serves a really well put together Italian menu that is reasonably priced for what is on offer. So, if you are seeking a Mediterranean-influenced meal that is “bravissimo” do consider giving Gusto a go.

Food 8/10
Drink 8/10
Service 8/10
Value 7.5/10

Ambience – Expect a stylish, yet relaxed Italian bistro.

For this review, we dined at the invitation of Gusto.

GUSTO Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

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