A night out in Sheffield with my best friend – how long is it since we’ve done this?
We tot it up; about 17 years. Ridiculous.
We do meet up at Meadowhall on occasion for cinema and a window-shop. But the last time we ventured into the city centre together, we were divorced mothers on the pull.
Not that we ever did. We’d get dolled up and head out with high hopes, only to come home again without even being chatted up.
Tonight is a rather different affair; we’re both long-married and all we’re capable of pulling is our hold-it-all-in pants. We are off to the Lyceum to see Birds Of A Feather, the sitcom from our heyday, now transferred to the stage.
We want to eat first. We head for the little Italian we used to go to in our teens; Mama & Leonie’s on Norfolk Street. But scores of women of a similar age also bound for the Lyceum have got there before us and their hold-it-all-in pants are already straining at the seams.
What to do? We did fancy an Italian (we did on those nights on the pull, too). The only other place nearby that comes to mind is Gusto on Norfolk Row. Though while I’ve been told the food is to die for, I’d heard prices are high.
We decide to give it a whirl; those budgeting skills, honed from years of managing one income households, are still as sharp. We can surely do Gusto on a budget. We were the mums you saw in Pizza Hut, teaching their kids how to skilfully stack the contents of their salad bar bowls to get more in, and stick the tomatoes and boiled eggs on the top with a blob of mayo.
We adore this restaurant the moment we walk in. The long, narrow Georgian property, latterly home to Molly’s Tearoom, is pretty and elegant, the palette all pale blue and beige.
We don’t get chance to gawp at the fantastic cakes and desserts under glass at reception; a smiling, handsome Italian is whisking us away to paradise. I mean, a table for two.
Gusto used to be a big, bustling cafe on Church Street popular with workers on lunch breaks. Owners Bruno Saverio and Esterina (Ester) Celvia moved the business to picturesque, cobbled Norfolk Row only 100 metres from the Crucible and Lyceum in autumn 2011.
Now there are 40 seats, a brass-topped bar, a café area at the front and the restaurant in the back with banquette seating and a wall of wine.
The menu arrives; you could go mad at this place and run up a very sizeable bill.
Starters commence at £5.95 for soup of the day and soar to the delicious-sounding salmon and swordfish carpaccio marinated in passion fruit at £8.25 and scallops with creamed potato, saffron and truffle at £9.70. Heck.
The most expensive mains are fillet steak at £22 with roast potatoes and creamy taleggio sauce, and gamberoni arrosto, roasted prawns with spinach and chilli at an eye-watering £18.85.
Were there husbands in tow, we’d have chanced our arms, but tonight, Matthew, we’re not starry-eyed. Pasta starts at £8.50 and pizzas at £7.50 – pretty reasonable; you pay that at Pizza Hut these days.
We order a glass of house wine a-piece (small £3.50 Sicilian chardonnay for Best Friend Louise, a large £4.95 Puglian red for greedy me) and find both stunning.
Then one of the pizzas sounds so good we decide to share one as a starter (then worry it’s going to be too filling). We needn’t have. The bianca, £8.95, turns out to be almost as light as a Yorkshire pudding. We tear it apart and scoff the lot; it’s lightly laced with sweet, sticky gorgonzola. Walnuts and pine nuts add sweet crunch and it’s divine.
We’ve told the waiters (uber-efficient and attentive) we’re heading for the theatre and our mains arrive promptly.
BFL takes one mouthful from her bowl of paccheri pasta with pancetta, ricotta and roast tomato (£9.50) and rolls her eyes in ecstasy. I haven’t seen her that happy since she found the perfect pair of summer wedges in a size 4 at M&S. It’s pungent with roasted garlic and densely flavoured sweet tomatoes, the ricotta adding creamy graininess. “I don’t want it to end,” she sighs.
Meanwhile, I’m having a Harry Met Sally at Katz’s Deli moment over the aubergine parmigiana. Beautifully presented with a wafer of crisped parmesan and fresh basil, there’s a creamy mozzarella layer and a rich tomato fondue, too. It’s £9.25 and it’s wow.
Side dishes, had we wanted them, were £4 each – asparagus gratin, sauteed spinach, roast peppers, grilled zucchini and roast potatoes.
We are stuffed, but greedy for one of the home-made desserts, cakes and pastries at a reasonable £4.70. Gusto is famed for its coffee, too.
“No time; Dorien, Shazzer and Tracey are on any minute,” says the BF, who is back at Slimming World.
She heads off to the box office for the tickets while I pay the bill (she never used to be such a cheap-skate). Thanks to restraint (pants, cash and time) it’s just £36.15. Result.
Three days on, we can still remember the taste of those dishes. Gusto is brilliant. We’re going back; in trousers with elasticated waists, with the husbands’ credit cards.