The bars and restaurants along Edinburgh’s George St are the closest Edinburgh has to the ‘continental cafe’ culture. On a nice evening, such as last Thursday, George St’s pavement cafes are guaranteed to be busy. The high rents for the large premises along George St probably goes some way to explaining why most of the outfits here belong to chains - Browns, Tigerlily from the Montpelier Group, The Ivory Lounge and The Living Room to name a few. Gusto, an Italian word for vigorous enjoyment, as in eating and drinking, is the chain we chose for impromptu food and drinks after visiting the John Lennon Art exhibition in the nearby Dome.
The popularity of Gusto was perfectly represented by the electronic table waiting device the suited gent on the door gave us, when we turned up unannounced. Before it burst into a vibrating and flashing life we managed to order a pint of Moretti (¬£3.50) and a glass of Prosecco (¬£5) from the bar at the front of Gusto. Gusto’s bar is nicely lit, high on atmosphere and with good service to match it’s a fine place to enjoy a drink while watching the crowds on George St.
The restaurant area of Gusto is spit level and has a hefty capacity. The size was not at the expense of service, which was brisk, but warm and friendly throughout the evening. Gusto’s menu is available online and is the same throughout all eight of their UK restaurants. The menu is large and split between starters, salads, pasta & risotto, meat, seafood and sides. Pizzas, pasta and risotto are around the ¬£8/¬£9 mark, while more substantive mains range from a beef burger at just under ¬£11 to lobster at ¬£35. The pricing is typical of what you’d expect from a restaurant on George St.
There’s little hope of complementary bread in this part of town, so for starter we shared Italian breads at ¬£3.25. The olive oil and balsamic vinegar accompaniment prepared at our table was a nice touch and the bread sticks were perfect to nibble on while talking.
My peking duck pizza (¬£9.50), had an authentic taste and it resembled a gargantuan duck pancake. The swathes of hoisin sauce, while having the taste, might unsettle all but the most battle hardened of tummies. The kitchen well and truly nailed my dining partner’s mushroom risotto, which was full of flavour and perfectly textured. The plentiful wild mushrooms in it were delicious. A small rocket and parmesan salad as a side (¬£3.75) bumps the cost of a meal up, but it was pleasant nonetheless.
Through our close, but comfortable, proximity to other diners I was impressed by the appearance of Gusto’s chargrilled steak and, even though we opted against dessert, Gusto’s tiramisu looked worth a try.
Chain restaurants aren’t usually my forte, but our visit identified Gusto as a slick and quality operator. What restaurants like Gusto do have is atmosphere and a buzz about them. To eat exclusively along the restaurants of George St would be a little sad given Edinburgh’s wonderfully varied offerings, but on this evidence a trip every now and again is well worth your while.
Gusto is located at 135 George St, Edinburgh, EH2 4JH
Tel: 0131 225 2555
Gusto replaced the Est Est Est restaurant.