JUST like the Good Food Guide, readers write into Food and Drink with recommendations – often useful apart from ones which say give up the job now, fatso.
Here’s Craig nominating Gusto, the new Italian restaurant in Norfolk Row, Sheffield.
“Warm flatbread with a very sticky balsamic dip hit the right notes then the real food arrived . . . . wonderfully sweet scallops cooked perfectly. Shavings of black truffle worked a treat and lifted the flavours to a very high level.”
You gather he liked it.
He was right – we’d had a test drive of both for lunch the week before and were impressed and apprehensive. For this is the down-sized, upmarket offspring of what was Gusto-Italiano, the 90 cover café in Church Street, famous for its fiercely authentic lunchtime dishes and excellent coffee.
But would it work after a short hike across town to smaller (40 seats) but smarter new premises where the prices are higher?
Even more so when owners Bruno Saverio and Esterina (Ester) Celvia are determined to make none of the usual concessions to Sheffield-Italian cooking. This is what you can eat in Italy if you find the right place.
The transformation of what was Molly’s tearoom inside the Georgian-fronted building is first class. It reminded me of an enoteca in Rome in which we were held up at gunpoint but that’s another story.
There’s a curving brass-topped bar and a scatter of seats in the café area before an archway which leads into the long, thin restaurant, with banquette seating, photographs, a gilt mirror and an overall impression of Wedgwood blue. The end wall is a wine rack. You couldn’t pick a better place to show off your Gucci handbag or shoes.
Starters include balsamic pork with parmesan, tuna and swordfish carpaccio, and king prawn tempura, while the primi piatti section offers porcini risotto with truffle and pastas including trofiette (with seafood) and orecchiette (with broccoli).
These mostly come in under a tenner but fish and meat main courses are around £16, more for steaks. Vegetables are extra.
When it opened last month it was a one-size-fits-all menu throughout the day but by the time you read this there should be more lunchtime-type dishes.
If you knew the food in Church Street it’s like that only better. Bruno and Ester hired Guiseppe Guerra, a young chef from Sellamare, near Bari, whom they found at the Bari Sheraton Hotel and told him to carry on cooking like he always does. Except that he’s cooking with Ester.
And you can’t talk to an Italian about food without the word passion coming up.
“It’s like a marriage. He’s my husband in the kitchen,” says Ester.
“Does Guiseppe know that?” asks my wife incredulously.
“No,” says Ester.
So what about the food? The flatbread (£4) is gorgeous, thin, soft and billowy, studded with oregano and salt, which suggests the pizzas are equally fine.
My starter of Italian sausage chopped in a robust fennel and tomato sauce on a bed of light, fluffy polenta (£6.25) is as good as that I ate halfway up a mountain in the Italian Alps.
My wife had a starter version of ravioloni (£7.45 instead of £8.95), stuffed with ricotta and spinach, two pasta pillows rather than three, the pasta taut, the filling full of flavour, with a delicate tomato sauce as dressing.
She goes for baked sea bass (£16.25), as her main. There are two fillets and the skin is not as crisp as she would have hoped but the flavour of the fish is there.
My main is medallions of pork fillet, three of them, wrapped in smoked pancetta served on creamed potatoes with sweet-sour oyster mushrooms (£16.95). The meat has been beautifully handled. There is still a rosy blush, the smokiness from the pancetta seeps through and they are piglet-tender.
But something is lost in translation. The menu promises creamed potato. It is there but as a smear of what is more like sauce. An Englishman expects something more substantial.
I order roast rosemary potatoes, probably some of the nicest you’ll eat, but that adds another £4 to the dish, pushing it over £20.
We leave it to the staff (service is exquisite) to bring us sweets, a trio of cakes to share including a sophisticated tiramisu (£4.20) and a couple of tiny high caffeine espressos (£2.90).
The wine list is totally Italian by region. No restaurant in Italy recognises any other wines exist except Champagne.
We only want a glass each and I ask Bruno to suggest one for the pork. I reckon white wine goes better but Italians obviously think differently as Bruno steers me towards a mellow red, Bonizio Sangiovese from Tuscany (£5.45).
It’s been a great meal. I don’t know what’s going on in that kitchen but Guiseppe and Ester produce a wonderful marriage of flavours on the plate.
The bill for food is £58.50. Wine and coffee adds another £13.35.
Careful eating will bring the price down.
This is memorable stuff.
Full marks all round.
12 Norfolk Row, Sheffield S1 2PA.
Tel 0114 276 0004.
Open Mon-Sat 9am-9pm (lunch from 11.30-2.30pm). Music. Vegetarian dishes. House wine £12.95, plenty by the glass. Credit cards. Street parking.
My star ratings (out of five):