Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Gusto, George Street, Edinburgh

The Location and Introduction
For those who know Edinburgh city centre restaurants well, the location of Gusto is where the Italian trattoria, Est Est Est, used to be at the West End of George Street, near Charlotte Square. The Living Ventures company was co-founded by Tim Bacon (fine name for a restaurateur!) and Jeremy Roberts, who also created the Living Room brand of cocktail bars & bistros around the UK. They are currently investing £10 million to refurbish and rebrand Est, Est, Est into a stylish modern collection of Gusto Bars and Restaurants.

The former style of dining here was very much casual and informal with a strong effort to cater for families and children. Tables were covered in paper cloths and kids given crayons and encouraged to draw and scribble as they waited for their pizza. Children are still welcome at Gusto, but the design and ambience has taken it upmarket for business lunches, "ladies who lunch", romantic dinners and quality Italian cuisine for the grown ups.

The word 'gusto' means taste in Italian, but of course we use the word in English to mean to do something 'with passion' or 'great enjoyment' especially in connection with eating and drinking.

The Restaurant
If you knew Est, Est, Est on George Street before, the first change you notice in Gusto is that the entrance door has been moved to the side of the huge glass frontage to create an open lounge bar area, separate from the dining area further back. The bar has high tables and stools for pre dinner drinks and for guests who may be waiting for a table.

The entire restaurant space is vast and seems to go on for ever with a long downstairs section with a theatre kitchen at the far end. From here a wide curving staircase leads up to an open mezzanine level above. It may seem a large restaurant, but cleverly the creation of individual booths, for couples and larger groups along the walls, and hidden nooks and crannies. The overall dark, romantic ambience is inspired by the glamour of 1950's New York Italian restaurants - captured by complete wall of period black and white Roman street and cafe scenes - but enhanced throughout in Gusto by smart contemporary décor and an elegant style.

Stretching almost the full length of the ground floor, a central design feature incorporates a very long, 10 metre "con amici" dining table for either a very large dinner party or for a communal banquet of couples and groups of friends. Hanging overhead are two fabulous glittering chandeliers with several ornate candlesticks placed along the table. The interior design is certainly unique to offer a distinctly different theme, mood and setting.

The Food
The focus at Gusto is on freshly prepared classic and modern Mediterranean food to cater for all tastes. The Head Chef is Graham Cook (another perfect name for his profession) and his kitchen brigade in Edinburgh have been working with a team of Italian chefs to develop an enticing menu of authentic Tuscan dishes, from salads and pastas to prime steak and seafood. A highlight of the restaurant is a wood-fired oven to bake freshly made, gourmet pizzas.

The neatly designed double-sided food and drinks menu is clearly laid out with separate sections from nibbles to pizzas, seafood to desserts. There's an appetising choice with healthy vegetarian dishes marked with a tick, and salads - such as Spinach, asparagus, pancetta and goat's cheese, can be ordered in either a small or large portion, for starter or main course. Instead of normal garlic bread, do try the home-made, wood fired pizza bread with rosemary and sea salt, or tomato and basil, as a starter or keep-hunger-pangs-at-bay nibble. Be warned this is a large portion so perfect for sharing, perhaps with a bowl of olives. Tried and tested was the Tricolor salad - mozzarella, tomato and basil - quality soft, salty cheese and vine tomatoes. Also for a starter, King prawns and Tuscan ham and melon. The quality ingredients are certainly fresh and taste of the Italian sunshine.

And then on to the main event. I could not resist the Grilled Lobster with garlic butter or a Thermidor sauce and a green salad. On the side, a bowl of fries. Simple, classic, classy and beautifully cooked. On the other side of the table, my dining companion decided to check out the house speciality - pizza. There's a choice of eight (with the option of additional toppings). He chose Florentina - spinach, gorgonzola cheese, red onion, mushroom with a fried egg in the centre. The huge pizza arrived on a wooden board with a proper pizza cutter. Large in diameter but thin in depth and stuffed with delicious cheese and vegetables, it was voted 9/10. Elsewhere on the menu, Spaghetti with chicken and green beans, Risotto with tiger prawns, mussels and calamari, Veal cutlet Saltimbocca, and char-grilled Rib eye and Sirloin steaks. As well as lobster, the seafood section may offer organic salmon and seabass - depending on the market that day. Side orders offer something a bit more interesting than the usual mash or seasonal vegetables: roasted sweet potato, spinach tossed in olive oil and Italian fried courgettes.

As you might expect the wine list in Gusto emphasises Italian wines, as well as a section on Old World French and New World Australian, South African and Chilean wines. As an aperitif we sipped a glass of Prosecco (a very reasonable £ 4.00). Alternatively, Duval Leroy Fleur de champagne (£.6.50). With our meal we shared a bottle of "ripe and juicy" Valpolicella Classico Bollo and a bottle of Panna water.

Italians do desserts with a passion. Here you can expect all the usual suspects - Tiramisu, Pannacotta, and their own special style of Affogato - vanilla ice-cream drenched in a Ristretto espresso. (Affogato literally means, "I am drowning"). And for diners still hungry, you may be tempted by the Italian cheese board.

The Bill
Nibbles: Wood fired pizza bread: £3.50; olives: £2.75. Starters: £4.95 - £6.95. Mains: £7.95 (pasta/pizza) to £18.00 (steak /seafood). Dessert: £4.50
House wine: £3.00 (175cl glass) £12.00 (bottle), Montepulciano d'Abruzzo - £22, Glass of Veuve - Clicquot champagne, £7.50.

Further Information
Gusto is at 135 George Street, Edinburgh. For reservations or further information, telephone 0131 255 2555, e-mail or view the Gusto Edinburgh Web site.

Tim Bacon and Jeremy Roberts, the entrepreneurs behind Living Ventures, seem to have a canny knack of predicting - if not personally inventing - lifestyle trends in the bar/restaurant hospitality business. For the 1990s they devised the concept of the Living Room group of city cocktail bars for the smart business drinking and dining set. For the Noughties, they have given Est, Est Est a glamorous face lift from 'cheap and cheerful' to a fashionable 'cool and contemporary' image. The launch of Gusto has already proved extremely successful as they revamp 10 restaurants around the UK.

Gusto on George Street, Edinburgh offers seriously good Italian cuisine at affordable prices on the High Street. With its cute wee bar and rows of private booths, this is the perfect place for a coffee, glass of wine, business lunch or leisurely dinner. On a Sunday night in winter, the atmosphere - buzzing, style - elegant, mood - romantic, and the food and wine? - devoured with gusto.

Vivien Devlin, British Guild of Travel Writers
February 2008

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