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Address: 756 Wilmslow Road / Didsbury / M20 2DW / Tel: 0161 445 8209

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      29.08.2010 21:22
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      Not that different from when it was Est Est Est...but then I always liked that one anyway

      Gusto is a mainly local (to me) restaurant chain, with a few branches in various far flung places from Edinburgh to Newcastle, but this review is specifically of my experiences at the East Didsbury branch. The restaurant is located on Wilmslow Road in the heart of Didsbury Village, in the space that used to be occupied by Est Est Est, a chain with an mysteriously similar menu to what Gusto now offers (who am I kidding...it's the same chain with a new name).

      My first introduction to Gusto was via a take away menu pushed through my door. I get a lot of these, but this tempted me because it wasn't for Pizza Hut or Dominoes, and because they had the intriguingly named Garlic Pizza Triangles. I'm a sucker for garlic bread, and have sampled most of Manchester's offerings, but these were a new one on me. In the end I never got a takeaway from here, but I have eaten in the restaurant on a few occasions in the last 6 months.

      Gusto has a rather funny layout, with tables that never quite seem big enough. They favour booths, but not in a sensible complete way. Instead, they have many tables which are half bench seat / booth back, and half normal chairs. They also have some curved numbers which are really not conducive to nice dinner conversations as you sit in a sort of horseshoe shape, with the two ends not near enough to finish off the circle. I know Didsbury is a popular place to go to eat, and every time I've been here it's been bustling (with the excepting of during the UK-vs-USA match when it was still not what you'd call empty), but I still think they could do to remove a few tables. It can be very hard to manoeuvre, both for patrons and staff, and when I'm in a chair not a booth I have to scooch in at least a couple of times during each meal, so others can squeeze past. Aside from the space issues, I like the decor and design of the restaurant. It is modern and unfussy without being too plain.

      Gusto has an interesting if a little repetitive menu. Some of the items are unique twists on old classics - like their dough petals in place of dough balls - but they tend to taste no better so it's all about the aesthetics. I'm a big fan of their salads, and have ordered the goat's cheese one on multiple occasions. Not only is it beautifully presented with long strips of roasted pepper, and a proper mound of leaves, but the combinations, especially of the cheese on the raisin bread bruschetta, really set off the flavours.

      The menu is clearly laid out with sections for pizzas, pastas, salads, meat and seafood, and vegetarian options are marked clearly though this is then made somewhat redundant by the disclaimer at the bottom that 'cheese may not be made with vegetable rennet'. One thing I do like about the place is that they have food in all price ranges with mains from £5.95 to £35, and most hovering just above or below the tenner mark. They offer different sized portions of many items, too, and mark these are small or large, nor starter or main, so smaller appetites could get away with a reduced portion and ordering nothing else.

      The puddings are worth saving room for, though given the portion sizes this isn't always easy. The Nutella and Mascarpone calzone is a meal in itself (literally...it's the size of a pizza) but is a great one to share, and the cheese board also looks beautifully presented too. If this makes you cringe, I think they used to do a healthy living menu, which listed all nutritional values, so you could opt for low carb, high protein or whatever, but this seems to have recently been removed from their website, so I'm not sure if it's still offered.

      I have only ever had one thing off the menu I disliked, and that was the Italian bread basket. You might think this is a hard one to mess up, so kudos to them for managing to do so. The selection we had, which may change from day to day, included French bread and flavoured breads, but all seemed a little dry, as if they'd been cut hours ago, and since they were served with oil and vinegar, you couldn't even remedy this by slathering on the butter. I also think it's an expensive option, for what you get, at £3.25 without any olives or similar thrown in.

      Aside from this, we have never had any complaints about the food. Most of the time I've not been in parties where most people ordered meat, but I've sat by a steak on the odd occasion, and it was well received. My main issue with Gusto is the service. As a chain restaurant it is perhaps not as geared up to returning diners as some places, and certainly has made no attempts to ingratiate itself with me over the months. The service ranges from ok but unmemorable to quite abrupt, and I often find myself thinking the waiting staff could do with some training in keeping straight faces, as their frowns can give away their thoughts even when they don't say anything. On one occasion we had some confusion over whether the table had ordered extra bottled or tap water, and the waitress was verging on arguing with my friend rather than simply apologising and returning with the correct bottle. It may seem petty to say so, but Didsbury is not lacking in restaurants and there are always other places to go to eat.

      I do like the food at Gusto, but the service can let it down at times. Sort that out and I would highly recommend a meal there, but as it stands it loses a star and comes with the caveat that it might not be my first choice for an especially special or romantic meal out.

      It's also worth noting that while my local branch is never noticeably overrun with kiddies, this may shortly change with their push as a child friendly enterprise, and their latest initiative, the introduction of iTouch consoles preloaded with games, for 4 to 14 year olds to play with while dining. They offer a children's menu from the mundane to the mad (lobster linguini for your little one? Seriously?) and have a Baby Deli option for 4 months plus which also seems a leeetle bit crazy. In a 'helpful' way they also sell bibs and wipes. Some might expect these to come free of charge given the not that cheap prices of the meals parents will be eating. Me, I'm quite happy to do anything to discourage children in restaurants (with the exception of my friend's 1 month old who has been nothing but an angel during the two meals out of mine she's come along on since birth).


      Gusto has a website:

      http://www.gustorestaurants.uk.com/

      which provides menus to download, and has a useful online booking facility. Unfortunately, reserving only guarantees you a table, not a well located table, though on occasion I have asked, and been allowed, to move to a different one instead. It would make more sense to me for them to reserve the nicer tables for their pre-arranged guests, and leave the others for walk ins, but they seem to have other ideas.

      Being Didsbury, there's not masses of car parking nearby. You could try the side streets (or right in front, at certain times) or the Aldi and School Lane carparks are within an easy amble.

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