I have finally visited Gusto Birmingham after months of mixed reviews. Those that enjoy this restaurant seem to love it with ahem gusto and others seem to be unenthusiastic and almost disinterested. From my visit, I’ve fallen into the latter category.
On arrival, we were seated in the bar area of Gusto Birmingham, which has lots of natural light from the large windows. It is a nice space for drinks but I found it a little noisy even for a Tuesday evening. Although we were asked to be there for 6pm, we were left without so much as tap water or an offer of any refreshments for the first 20 minutes. Even then I had to insist that we had some tap water sent over so I could take my medication on schedule at 6.30pm. This turned out to be the first of disappointing experiences with the Gusto Birmingham team that evening sadly.
Eventually, we were served some drinks (a Tutti Frutti mocktail for me) and as I was with a small group of bloggers, our cameras ate first as usual. We also had some sharing boards with a mixture of cured meats, Foccacia bread, houmous, olives and cheese. I can’t tell you much about the sharing boards as no one explained the different menus in the bar and the restaurant but I can say that the olives and the parma ham that I tried were nice. From what I could tell, the bar menu is very light and really the restaurant is the main focus for food. It is nice that there are options for snacks in the bar area though if you are spending quite some time there.
When we were seated for dinner I hoped the restaurant area would be a little better for conversation but it wasn’t to be. The tables are close together and the music is quite loud which makes for a busy hum throughout the restaurant but a hoarse voice after a few hours. I also didn’t like that we were sat in a pathway for the serving team to travel to the till so we could hear a lot of what they were discussing (and it wasn’t all professional sadly).
My disappointments as a dairy-free diner are usually the result of a lack of imagination and flexibility from restaurants. I am often presented with one or two uninspiring dishes to choose from and things were no different here. There was only one dairy-free option on the entire Gusto summer menu so after browsing the allergens menu (the only option being the beef carpaccio salad), I ordered from the main menu instead where there was ever so slightly more choice for me.
The sole dairy-free starter is the tomato bruschetta (£4.95). This was a good portion but essentially chopped tomatoes heaped onto toast. The only flavour is from the tomato and the sprinkle of salt.; I was disappointed there wasn’t a touch of garlic to wake the dish up or perhaps the use of different tomatoes to create a more colourful dish. I think that bruschetta can be done brilliantly with really great ingredients and sadly this just didn’t deliver. I couldn’t recommend this starter as I don’t have fond memories or a yearning to eat it again. It just lacked any effort so I wasn’t sure why I would bother to go out to eat this in a restaurant.
My main was the tagliatelle prawns (£14.25); one of three dairy-free options on the menu. Thankfully the juicy prawns, tomato and chilis with fresh herbs was flavourful and enjoyable. I was pleased to see an Italian size portion of fresh tagliatelle pasta and that the sauce to pasta ratio was Italian style too. This main dish was good enough to justify the price tag in my opinion but I wouldn’t make a special trip to Gusto Birmingham to specifically eat this again.
Dessert was the safe option of lemon sorbet. I passed on finding out that it is bought in as chances are that I’ve already tasted it. There is only so much mass produced commercial restaurant lemon sorbet that I can eat. Besides a soy latte seemed a nice option to round off our meal. And it was indeed a lovely coffee.
Overall I felt a bit deflated after eating at Gusto Birmingham. It didn’t impress me food wise; the choice is severely lacking on the menu for me being lactose intolerant and for a vegan there are no options at all. Creating a vegan or dairy-free alternative to any of the dishes could be possible but with a kitchen churning out such a large number of dishes at each sitting, I wonder how much freedom there really is for the chefs. It would most likely be a case of cooking a standard meal without the dairy rather than cooking a stand out dairy-free dish from scratch. Perhaps my expectations are too high for a busy chain to meet. I think my biggest disappointment was due to the overall experience in the restaurant as it was too noisy, crowded and over-hyped.
Gusto, 33 Colmore Row, Birmingham B3 2BS. Tel: 0121 200 2400
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