Gusto raises its game

Gusto Italian restaurant's, from left, Giuseppe Guerra, Ester Celia, Michela Conco, Annarella Malarz, Pete Robinson and Michael Pilarski.
Gusto Italian restaurant's, from left, Giuseppe Guerra, Ester Celia, Michela Conco, Annarella Malarz, Pete Robinson and Michael Pilarski.

LIKE many city centre workers, I was a fan of Gusto Italian coffee shop in Sheffield city centre and I was eager to see what had changed when it moved across the city centre.

Quite a lot is the short answer. The coffee shop was busy but still quite a relaxed place with a mixture of tables and sofas and a big TV showing Italian programmes, where you ordered food at the counter, choosing from a display, and had it delivered to the table by waiting staff, rather like an osteria in Italy.

Gusto Italian restaurant's, from left, Michael Pilarski, Annarella Malarz and Michela Conco.

Gusto Italian restaurant's, from left, Michael Pilarski, Annarella Malarz and Michela Conco.

The new place on Norfolk Row opposite St Marie’s Cathedral is a lot smaller and a lot more formal with a proper menu. It was once a solicitor’s office and then became Molly’s Tearooms and when that closed Bruno Saverio and his business and life partner Esterina Celia, who is in charge of the kitchen, jumped at the chance to take the premises on.

Bruno, who is front of house, said: “We just went for it. We love the atmosphere around this street. We kept the interior the same style as the outside.

“We said let’s go with it and not wait any longer. Lots of people came on the opening night but it was still scary.”

Inside, a duck egg blue and cream colour scheme serves to enhance the elegant Georgian panelling and features and the whole feel is very elegant and comfortable, although the tables are small as space is at a premium. Anyone who just wants to call in for a coffee and cake can sit in a small bar area near the window.

Bruno is keen on good wines – he can now offer a choice of 120 that are on display around the walls – and wanted to move Gusto more upmarket in the Italian enoteca direction.

However, conscious that they no longer cater to the loyal clientele that they built up, they are hoping to expand next door and offer something like the old Gusto with good coffee, snacks and cakes alongside the formal restaurant. In the meantime, they are launching a new lunch menu soon and will keep the present menu for the evening trade. If they are able to expand, they will also look to offer a deli service.

Foodwise, their style is a marriage between Puglia, where Bruno comes from and says is an up-and-coming part of Italy in terms of cuisine, and Esterina’s native Napoli, which has long been famed as a home of good food.

Puglia is the producer of good olive oil and unusual pasta shapes like orecchietti (‘little ears’), while one of the most famous Neapolitan dishes is pizza, using the beautiful tomatoes of the region.

Pizzas are one of the most affordable items on the menu in use when I visited with my friend Linda, as most starters or antipasti choices are around £8 and main courses cost around £15 to £20.

As we were just calling in for lunch, we opted to share three dishes between us so that we could also sample some of chef Giuseppe Guerra’s cakes and desserts. He makes them all from scratch with a high level of skill but remarkably is not a pastry chef.

The waiting staff are very efficient and attentive and keep the service running very smoothly. They are also knowledgable about the food and will explain ingredients.

It is clear that the kitchen has raised its game in line with the move upmarket.

The first dish to arrive was a carpaccio of swordfish and tuna (£8.25). The beautifully fresh and thinly-sliced raw fish was served on an oval plate with the white swordfish contrasting prettily with the purply-pink tuna. It had been marinaded in a dressing using balsamic vinegar that had an interesting sweetness and depth to it and the fish just melted in the mouth. It was so enjoyable that we made pretty quick work of it.

Then we moved on to a Neapolitan classic, melanzane alla parmigiana (£8.25), and a ravioloni dish that we were told had been changed from the one on the menu.

The melanzane is an aubergine, tomato and parmesan bake and is one of the best I’ve tasted. There was an explosion of tomatoey flavour on the first mouthful that had me hooked and the layers of the principal ingredients (think lasagne or moussaka if you haven’t tried it) had melded together beautifully into a wonderfully soft and mellow whole. It was rich without being overwhelming and would be a good lunch for one, with a side salad or vegetable.

The three ravioloni (£9.25) – large ravioli – were filled with asiago cheese and radicchio, a purple and white bitter-tasting member of the chicory family that often crops up in bags of salad. The fresh pasta was excellent and the filling was interesting but I didn’t find the flavours as compelling as the other two dishes.

The chopped walnuts in the creamy sauce did add more interest, however, and Linda said it was her favourite of the three. It would have made a good light lunch for one with a side order.

On to the desserts after a little break and you really need to go to the counter at the front to be talked through them all.

We opted for a stracciatella cake and a torta della nonna (£4.50 each), plus excellent coffees.

The stracciatella was a mousse rather than an ice cream, a white chocolate one dotted with milk chocolate mousse, topped by a dark chocolate sponge. It looked beautiful and the texture was fabulous, but the taste was a little muted.

The torta (the name means grandmother’s cake) had a good pastry base and a dense custard-based filling but the flavourings of lemon and pine nuts were fairly understated. We still polished them off, though.

With sparkling water, the bill came to an expensive £44.85, but the new menu should help to make it more affordable and it’s definitely somewhere to splurge on a special dinner.

lVerdict: a shrewd move that will pay off, if you can afford to pay up.

lOpening times: Monday to Saturday, 9am to 9pm. Lunch served 11.30am to 2.30pm.

lGusto, 12 Norfolk Row, Sheffield. 0114 276 0004.