Taking inspiration from the grand cafes of Europe, Gusto is bringing its spirit of 'making the everyday exquisite' to Leeds' commerce district with a new opening on Greek Street.
The latest in its small chain of Italian restaurants – which also includes a venue in Cookridge that has proved very popular with the locals – takes over the site previously occupied by Henry's Bar, albeit after a complete renovation to add art deco touches and fairy light-strewn olive trees.
If you can't spend five minutes in an Italian restaurant without your mind wandering to films about organised crime, Gusto creates a vibe somewhere between a 'Boardwalk Empire' bistro and any of the Sicilian locations from 'The Godfather'.
The menu is large, inclusive, and mostly familiar and has been sorted into antipasti, salad, meat, seafood and pizza. Even so, dishes feature individual touches to impart a bit of decadent character.
For example, that old staple fritto misto is livened up with sardine fillets and carrot and parsnip crisps, the salmon tartare conceals a soft-poached quails egg, and the truffle verdi pizza is topped with a light pea base.
There's also a bit of theatre with dinner: the whole salt baked seabass is excavated from its salt crust by the waiting staff at your table, and each baked Alaska receives its final, fiery ritual to an audience before being dished up.
Similar attention is paid to their cocktails: spritz and bellinis are all present, along with some imaginative mixtures of spirits and ingredients, but the signature cocktails really stand out. Well-considered flavours combinations such as the fig and hazelnut Martini and the cherry Marnier/coffee liqueur combo of the bitter cherry can hold their own against any offerings from the dedicated cocktail bars around town.
The setting and tone of the restaurant makes it a good destination for a variety of occasions, and, despite being a chain, each Gusto restaurant hosts unique special events. Examples at other branches include book club meetings, live music performances, and a morning service with a DJ. At the time of writing they haven't decided to refer to that as a 'Bistrotheque', but it's surely only a matter of time, so keep an eye out to see what they've got in store at the new opening.
Gusto Restaurant & Bar, 10 Greek Street, Leeds City Centre, LS1 5RU.
Looking for more Italian restaurants in Leeds? Read our list of favourites.