Residing in a fascist-era former government building behind the sleek, minimalist Ara Pacis exhibition space Gusto occupies several buildings on various floors, more of a brand concept than just a restaurant, combining chic Italian style with a laid-back dining atmosphere, intimacy and good modern Italian cuisine. What’s the catch? The expensive prices. The food is good, but not deserving of a price-list more akin to a high-end eatery or set-lunch michelin star menu. Plus the wines by the glass in the restaurant start at 8 euros, despite the fact that many bottles on the menu are affordable and you can get a very good glass of wine almost anywhere in Italy for half of that.
The Gusto company itself runs a cookery shop, an enoteca (wine bar), retaurant and pizzeria, an osteria (similar to a trattoria), a cocktail bar, formaggeria (cheese tasting bar) and finally a fish restaurant. These all adhere to the crisp white walls, oak tables and exposed metal design ethic but each conveys its own ambience geared to reflect the product it is selling. The cocktail bar prides itself on its selection of martinis, inlcuding the famed Bond favourite, the “Vesper”which I admit to being rather partial to. At aperitivo expect to find baby squid, marinated anchovies, mushroom tapenade and home-baked foccaccia brought to your table by any one of the handsome, part-time model waiters.
We dined at the restaurant, a two-floor affair with small rooms leading in to each other so as to enhance a sense of warmth and keep the noise to a minimum. You’d hardly know there was a large pizzeria downstairs heaving with Friday night work groups and hungry 30-somethings but the delightful smell of fresh baked bread fills the room.
I had a sformato al nero di seppia e crema di patate allo zafferano to start with, a smooth, sweet golden potato veloutè with a rich and creamy mousse of potato and squid cooked in its own ink. The flavours were spot on, as was the consistency. We drank a pouilly fumè there were no Italian white wines by the glass (not that i’m complaining about what we drank which was very good, but i’m sure a tourist to Rome would want the option of a local wine by the glass).
Francesco chose a millefoglia of aubergine, which was tasty enough, but not worth the price. Food like this can be made at home, and being all vegetable you really can’t justify the 9 euro charge unless you’re sitting in a real gourmet establishment.
For primi I had spinach tortelloni stuffed with buttery rich burrata cheese, a sort of soft mozzarella with a fondant cream-rich core, pacchino tomatoes and deep-fried basil leaves. THe pasta was excellent, the flavours fresh and the cheese just enough not to be filling, although the sauce was a bit watery and the deep-fried basil simply didn’t taste of anything, and looked rather like wilted leaves as they were transparent and disintegrated at the touch of the fork.
Francesco had ravioli with cacio e pepe, the consistency was perfect, creamy, pungeant and peppery as good cacio should be. A working class roman trattoria classic well adapted for the restaurant scene.
For dessert we shared a dark chocolate soufflè with strawberries and peach cream. No denying the chocolate was rich and indulgent and yummy, but I was expecting a runnier fondent centre and the two little slivers of strawberry were pretty bland. THere wasn’t much of a peach flavour either as there literally were two dots of the stuff on the plate. But overall, we somehow finished the whole lot very quickly and were still licking our lips for more…
THe secondi sounded wonderful, although we simply weren’t hungry enough. I would return again to try them, although I do believe the restaurant is a bit too pricey for its overall quality and the wine al bicchiere list needs revising. You can’t bully people into choosing a whole bottle because its cheaper if you want to be taken seriously as a wine bar/enoteca as well.
I haven’t eaten at either the osteria or the pizzeria, although I have heard very good reviews of the pizzas. One little black spot was the sight of a Coeur de Lion cheese in the window of the formaggeria. I know that the aim of the cheese tasting bar is to showcase the variety and wealth of Italian cheeses primarily, and I also know the great rivalry between France and Italy on … well… just about everything culinary, but frankly it’s insulting both to your customers and to the French to offer Coeur de Lion as your token french cheese seeing as it’s simply a low-end supermarket camembert of very little flavour. You wouldn’t put “invernizzi” packet supermarket mozzarella on the cheese list of a posh Italian cheese-tasting delicatessen or serve it in a high-end restaurant. This made me pretty angry as I assumed it was part of an ongoing campaign to convince the Italian public that the French can’t make cheese, when of course, the French make outstanding, world-famous cheese that can easily rival the best Italy has to offer.
Altogether, Gusto was tasty, with well-balanced and interesting variations on Italian classics and good, efficient service. The prices were too high and the wines-by-the-glass list a little bit restrictive but I would come here again to try the mains and the pizzeria. If they were not absolutely magnificent I might reconsider.