At Gusto in Hull, Dave Lee discovers that great Italian cooking runs in the family. Just don’t mention that aperitif.
One of the most popular Italian restaurants in Hull over the last couple of decades was La Perla on Newland Avenue. It served the usual mix of pasta, pizzas, carne and pesce with a touch of flair and a twist of pepper from an over-sized grinder.
Over its final few years it started to feel a little dated and in need of a bit of a rejig. This was probably because owner Gianfranco Redolfi’s attentions were focused round the corner at Da Gianni, his new (slightly-trendier) restaurant on Princes Avenue.
I visit Da Gianni a lot; partly because I like the unhurried insouciance of the waiting staff, but mainly because they make the best pizzas in the whole of East Yorkshire.
Da Gianni is a joint venture between Gianfranco and his son Gianpaul and when Redolfi Snr decided last year to call time on La Perla, it was Redolfi Jnr who brought in business partner Alex Stothard and set out to refit, remix and reopen his dad’s restaurant as Gusto. They have been open since November last year and, if the fine night I had there last Tuesday is anything to go by, they are set to challenge Da Gianni for crown of “My Favourite Italian For 50 Miles”.
Gusto is a long, skinny, single room decorated in a bistro style, with cosy wooden tables and very little faff or fuss. The menu contains all the usual Italian favourites, but I’m delighted to say that we never even made it to the menu proper as the twice-weekly updated specials menu proved to be an ample treasure trove of tempting seasonal delights.
Chef Gianpaul studied for three years in northern Italy and it’s the relatively more complex and adventurous cuisine of the north that he specialises in. That said, the cured venison bresaola with rocket salad and buffalo ricotta was an atypically simple offering – just three raw ingredients arranged on a plate, but the quality of those ingredients ensured it was devoured with unseemly haste.
If made incautiously, Arancini Siciliani (deep fried risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella) can sometimes be a dry, stodgy affair, but here it was crunchy yet soft and served with a fragrant basil and tomato sauce.
Best of the starters was pan-fried cod cheeks on braised lentils with a caper and parsley sauce. Cod cheeks – like scallops – are easy to overcook and ruin, but these must have been wiped over the surface of a hot pan with precision timing as they were soft and juicy and not overwhelmed by the accompanying sauce or lentils.
At first sight, the sea bass fillets on the main of branzino con arancia e pepe rosa (that means “served with orange, lemon, herbs and pink peppercorns” for those who don’t speak the lingo) looked a little on the skimpy side, but the accompanying veg bolstered the dish to ample proportions.
A particular highlight was the rosemary roast new potatoes; Gusto – quite rightly – don’t do chips, but you may never want a chip again when you try these little wonders.
Best plateful of the night went to agnello della primavera – garlic and rosemary roasted spring lamb chump on a bed of lentils with pancetta and onion. A delicious cut of soft, pink-centred lamb rendered distinctly Mediterranean by the smoky pancetta and onion.
If you visit Gusto, folks, the specials are the way to go. Despite there only being eight or so dishes on offer, every one looked delicious. I would happily have had the squid ink ravioli with scallops and chives in a spinach and prawn sauce or the spaghetti with crab meat and courgette or the zuppa di pesce made with monkfish, bream or swordfish and I’m sure they would all have been equally good selections. Gianpaul knows what he’s doing, alright. Just as adept running the front of house is Alex. Recommendations are made with care and dishes come and go with the minimum of bother and interruption.
After desserts of Italian ice cream (which was lovely) and profiteroles that were just as unctuous and profiteroley as you’d want them to be, I asked the waiter to surprise me with an aperitif I’d never tried before. This is something I like to do at every Italian I visit and has lead me to discovering the delights of limoncello, vin santo and passito di pantelleria and the horrors of grappa. “I have just the thing,” the waiter tells me before returning with a brown liqueur that tasted – in my estimation anyway – like a cross between palma violets and earwax. I won’t tell you what it was called, that way you can enjoy discovering it for yourself. Or not, if you’ve any sense.
The dubious taste of the waiter aside, I heartily commend Gusto to you. The two of us spent just shy of £80, which I thought perfectly reasonable, and that bought us very good Italian food designed with respect for the cuisine and the ingredients in a restaurant where everyone wants you to stay all night, sit back, relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Just like they do in Italy.
• Gusto, 26 Newland Avenue, Hull HU5 3AF. Tel: 01482 446261, www.gustodagianni.co.uk. Open: Tuesday to Friday, 5pm to late; Saturday and Sunday, 12pm to late.