I was going to start by saying Gusto is like an old, comfy pair of shoes but that might give rather the wrong impression of this fine, suburban eatery.
So, just to clarify, what I mean by that is not that this is a worn-out, smelly, dishevelled husk of a place but rather, it’s comfy, relaxing and doesn’t leave you feeling sore and unloved.
Gusto has form: it won Best Suburban restaurant in our last Yorkshire Evening Post Oliver Awards and Best Suburban the year before that.
The building, a former police station, is beguiling because on the outside (and from certain angles), you would be forgiven for thinking it was anything but a restaurant. Dental surgery, yes. A vets perhaps. But restaurant? Well, all doubt evaporates more or less as soon as you step inside, because what they have created here is a wonderland of wood and soft autumnal tones, lit with cosy, subtle downlights, so that the whole thing seems to purr like a cat curled up in front of a log fire. Of course, there is no log fire (would that there were), at least not that I have thusfar noticed, but what there is is an open kitchen and pizza oven: a stage, if you will, where the nightly actors are the chefs, pummelling and tossing the dough with expert ease and generally going about their work with, well, gusto. In the middle of all of this (I feel duty bound to mention) sits a 200-year-old olive tree. In fact, we end up sitting next to it. It’s a nice, quirky touch.
I turned up having already perused the menu online and was all set to order slow cooked belly pork (£14.95) but then the specials menu arrived and the marinated rump of lamb (£19.95) swayed me.
But before that were starters. We ordered oven roast pork ribs in barbecue sauce, dressed with rocket (£7.95) and some baked rosemary focaccia bread (£3.95), which came with one of the smallest, shallowest dishes of olive oil and balsamic vinegar I have ever seen.
Seriously, there was only enough in that dish for one decent dab of bread and, indeed, this proved to be the case and so I asked if we could have more, thinking they would see that we had used up all the oil and vinegar almost straight away and bring us a decent amount but, instead, we got the same again, which was pitiful really. Was I supposed to ask a third time? And a fourth or fifth? If you’re serving oil and balsamic with what is a nice but quite a dry, fragrant bread, you need oodles of the stuff. I mean, I’ve seen hamster feeding bowls which are bigger. Possibly (and this is just a crazy out-there idea...) they could just bring a bowl and then leave it up to diners to pour their own oil and balsamic. They are, after all, condiments - no-one would consider rationing salt and pepper, for example. So, ditto.
Did I mention the ribs were good? They were, although the sauce was a touch claggy. And also, hate to say it but my dish was removed too quickly, almost as I was chewing the last mouthful.
Moving on to mains: as I ordered the lamb, I was asked whether I wanted it rare or well done, which to my mind rather seems like asking someone whether they want their central heating on at full blast or not at all. Actually, I like it somewhere in the middle and I’m the same with my lamb, and so I responded in kind, asking for ‘medium’ but was told ‘I don’t think they’ll do it too rare’.
As it turned out, the lamb was rare-medium and not at all bad. The knife slipped easily into the sliced chunks of meat and the flavour was superb. It was served with nice little cubes of permentier potatoes and came on a vegetable galette (thinly sliced and tiered courgette, tomato and aubergine), dressed with a nice, salty, zingy pesto. It was good, although I did feel there was too much of it overall. The hunk of lamb was a struggle to get through but at almost £20 at least they give you your money’s worth.
My partner, meanwhile, ordered a Griffin pizza (£13.25), which is roast chicken, pepperoni, sliced green chillies, roasted red onion and mozzarella, all on one of the thinnest bases I have ever seen: a triumph in the artform that is modern pizza. And parents take note: they also do a make-your-own mini version for the kids, which seemed to be very popular considering the number of families who were around about - it comes with its own set of ingredients for the little ones to arrange on the base and a chef’s hat.
Dessert was sticky toffee pudding (£6.75) and bambolini (£5.50), the former being the stand-out dish, the latter I thought was okay but, again, there was just too much of it. Sometimes, less is more I think. I counted nine dough balls, whereas six would have been more than adequate.
All this, together with a bottle of Cantina Di Monteforte Pinot Grigio (£18.95), brought the final bill to £55.65. Service/olive oil/balsamic glitches aside, Gusto Cookridge is still one of my favourite restaurants.
Address: 151 Otley Old Road, Leeds, LS16 6HN
Opening hours: Sun-Thurs noon-10pm, Fri & Sat noon-11pm
Telephone: 0113 267 2100