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Restaurant review: Cheesed off

David Prior finds all the style of Italian New York but little substance in the way of food at Heswall's Gusto

Published on September 29th 2010.

Restaurant review: Cheesed off

Like sixties London and eighties Manchester, 1950s New York will be unshakeably lumbered with the image assigned to it by its culture.

Gorgonzola made such a rare appearance that you wondered whether it was the price of cheese, not oil or gold, now driving the credit crunch

While the former two were respectively swinging and baggy, the post-war Big Apple will always throw up memories of Goodfellas, of men called Paulie who wore impeccable suits, loved their mamas and had a penchant for psychopathic brutality. They also spent so much time in Italian restaurants that an entire culinary franchise was spawned here, courtesy of the likes of Frankie and Benny’s, and the latest of these is Gusto.

The Heswall version, which opened in October, provides one of the first opportunities to see what Living Ventures has done with its Est Est Est rebrand.

As Est Est Est was a neon-blue void of bland soullessness, one is relieved to report that this has amounted to nothing less than a bonnet-up overhaul. While some restaurant “rebrands” require little imagination to pick out the previous incumbent’s features – “look, the bar’s where the gents used to be”, etc - Gusto is unrecognisable. What’s more, the new design is tremendously evocative, a genuine escape as you progress ever more deeply into the dark and largely windowless interior. Oak and brick dominates amid the black-and-white-photo adorned walls, but it’s the lighting that sets it all off, everything from the tree-suspended fairy lights to the sparingly used spotlights helping to generate an atmosphere that is close to spot-on.

With the frantic and occasionally bellowing chefs exposed at one end, there is also an undeniable air of Hell’s Kitchen about the whole experience.

In terms of setting the right tone – everything from the place itself to the attentive waiter’s “enjoy your meal” as he showed us to our table – Gusto is superb. I was immediately of the mind to like the place, and the fact we’d chosen and received a bottle of Chilean Tierra Merlot (£17.50) within seconds of being seated only intensified that feeling. A thumbs-up too for the expansive wine list, split usefully into new and old world sections.

How disappointing to report then that the food lets the whole thing down. It wasn’t awful, but in the context of the surroundings and, well, the price, it’s a dreadful missed opportunity.

It started pleasantly enough. The marinated olives (£2.75), delivered swiftly as an appetiser, were large and succulent, while my starter of mussels with white wine, cream and garlic (£5.95) was appealingly moreish, the sort where the main incentive for negotiating the shells is to enable a free run at the sauce with whatever absorbent material is to hand. My companion’s spinach, asparagus, pancetta and goat’s cheese salad (£4.95), meanwhile, worked brilliantly as a combination.

The problems began with the main courses: Lamb cutlets with chickpea mash and a side order of French beans. The three cutlets looked great, but closer inspection revealed a not inconsiderable rump of fat on each one. Now fat on lamb cutlets is hardly unexpected, but it’s surely the restaurant’s job to make sure there is also a proportionally similar lean content – particularly when you’re paying £13.95 for it (plus £2.95 for the beans). What little there was of it, however, was tender and tasty - hence the frustration.

A similarly lax balance between quality and cut-offs was struck by my companion’s main course, the Gusto Pizza with Prosciutto, walnuts, rocket and Gorgonzola (£8.95). Delivered on a wooden board, the base was just right – thin, crispy and reassuringly irregular – and yet, once again, the meal as a whole came up short on content. A good two inches of base around the side was untouched by topping, presenting my companion with a moat of arid bread to venture across before hitting on the ingredients she had actually ordered. One of those ingredients, Gorgonzola, made such a rare appearance that you wondered whether it was the price of cheese, not oil or gold, now driving the credit crunch.

Throughout the disappointing mains, our one solace had been the promise of sticky toffee pudding. Alas, Gusto had run out.

Unmoved by any of the other available offerings, we decided instead on the Italian cheeseboard. I say cheeseboard, but celeryboard would perhaps have been a more accurate name, with oodles of the stuff protruding from the centre, far outweighing the £6.95 of actual cheese we had ordered, which amounted to nothing more than a diminutive knob of parmesan and a couple of slices of provola and gorgonzola, the latter some way past its best. An upturned ladle of honey may have driven home the Italian credentials, but it failed utterly to sweeten the experience.

Capped off as it was by glasses of Port and draught Moretti, the evening once again began to reveal Gusto’s charms. It could be a very good restaurant, but while it persists in taking short cuts with the food, it can only lay claim to the style, and not the substance, of the era it aspires to.

Rating: 13.5/20
Breakdown: 5/10 Food
4/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: Gusto
146-148 Telegraph Road
CH60 0AH.

Tel: 0151 348 4538

Confidential's food critics dine unannounced and we pick up our own tabs.

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14 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Manesty S. LaneApril 17th 2008.

Well what can you expect in Heswall? The local men cannot be relied upon to wear proper trousers to go out in the evenings, and all these Wirral yokels need a gimmicky, preferably a pseudo-American theme for them to even notice the place is there! Pizza'n'burgers is all they deserve!

A. E. ScousemanApril 17th 2008.

Marseille, eh? Are you some sort of matelot?

Graham BandageApril 17th 2008.

That's right. I leave the sodomy and the lash to others.

mostpeoplebutbynomeanseverybodythinksthey'reabloodycomedianApril 17th 2008.

Oi, Scouseman, 'Badinage' is MY line! (or word, rather)

L. E. PetomaineApril 17th 2008.

Is the name of this place a warning to expect an attack of flatulence afterwards?

Graham BandageApril 17th 2008.

Incidentally, is the writer related to the former darts correspondent of the Liverpool Daily Post? I used to enjoy his dispatches from the 'oche'.

John Lennon AirportApril 17th 2008.

You are right. Some places think that a shower of z-listers turning up equals a good restaurant and that ordinary punters will be fooled. Try the Ma Bo if you want brilliant food in barren surroundings. You won't find Alex Curren in there though.

Graham BandageApril 17th 2008.

You know, I spent nearly an hour in Blockbuster Video, choosing a DVD. What should it be? A classic, maybe a blockbuster (which, given my location, would have been apposite), a chick-flick (dread word) perhaps. In the end I chose the middle-aged male oenophile's favourite, Sideways. On my way home, I popped into my favourite delicatessen and picked up a lovely saucisson, some plump olives, a tub of houmous and a baguette with a crust which cracked like sugar glass.I was really going to enjoy my evening. I arrived home, uncorked an ironic Merlot, and had a long bath. Then I padded downstairs, poured myself a snifter and settled down with my grub, ready to enjoy a fine film. Then I remembered I don't have a telly. When will restaurants learn we'll eat in a rusty skip as long as the food is good?

Graham BandageApril 17th 2008.

Dear Mr Scouseman, they do in Marseille.

Wirral EaterApril 17th 2008.

This place was better as Est Est Est at least the food was consistently OK this place serves rubbish, the decor's nice but its definetly "all fur coat no knickers on" will not go back.

A. E. ScousemanApril 17th 2008.

A nice bit of rum and concertina, eh?

AnonymousApril 17th 2008.

I've eaten here on quite a few occassions and found both the food andservice to be of good quality, the seabass was cooked just right and the place was jumping! Will definately be heading back there soon as it was well worth the money and a massive improvement on est est est.

A. E. ScousemanApril 17th 2008.

Dear Mr. mostpeoplebutbynomeanseverybodythinksthey'reabloodycomedian,I was repeating on you.

A. E. ScousemanApril 17th 2008.

Dear Mr. Badinage, I hate to ruin your night in, but proper French baguettes do not have a crust that cracks "like sugar glass". I fear that you have been sold that regional speciality, the Scott's Bakery 'Vienna loaf' (or perhaps even a Sayer's crusty cob).

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