Il Gusto's 'fine' food and redemptive desserts
Il Gusto Ristorante,
423 Lisburn Road,
028 9068 3000
NEW year, new you? Quite possibly. New me? Not so much, although, in my defence, the 'new year' loses all of its newness as soon as February is even thought about.
The good intentions that come with a fresh calendar, especially good food intentions, are a nice enough diversion, but let's be honest: They're not worth very much and deserve to be utterly forgotten once it's not January any more. Like the McKenna Cup.
Anyway, everything is relative. If you eat four times your body weight in cheese and Quality Street during the last 10 days of December, does cutting that amount in half in January mean it's a 'new you'. I wish.
Il Gusto on the Lisburn Road in Belfast opened at the end of September and a look back to some articles published around that time reveals a heavy emphasis on the 'healthy' angle.
One headline even shouted that it was a 'HEALTHY Italian restaurant'– all capped up and nowhere to go, except down a road that's usually just a dead-end of tastelessness dressed up as worthiness.
Thankfully, the small, smart, modern – and a lot busier than you might expect on a Monday afternoon – Il Gusto didn't shout anything other than 'SOMEWHERE TO GET SOMETHING TO EAT'.
There was a set lunch option of three courses for £9.95 or two for £7.95, while the a la carte menu was brief, made a little briefer by the lack of the listed caprese salad.
A much bigger – and more interesting – selection is available for dinner, including pumpkin ravioli and scallop risotto, as well as 'light' pizza, which may tick the healthy box but isn't fooling me for a second.
If I want to be healthy, I don't eat a pizza.
One of the starters, calamari, was fleshed out with a bigger portion and a side order of garlic fries to become a main course. It also came with a warning – unnecessary as it turned out – that it would be a hefty portion that could prove insurmountable.
The uniformly straight strips of squid, lightly breaded, were good but not great, and were helped along by a better than good garlic mayonnaise, while the fries were great.
Piping hot and slicked with melted garlic butter, they wouldn't be on anybody's January 'new you' menu and were all the better for it.
An individual pizza, topped with olives and anchovies was fine. Anchovies can be relied on to make anything they go in taste better, but the olives lacked flavour and the pizza itself was nothing special.
I've had a lot better and a good few worse, but it did all get eaten – I was hungry, though.
So far, so mildly disappointing, and not because 'healthy' was taking precedence over 'good', but things did take a turn for the better when 'healthy' was sent to its room without any dinner – and definitely no dessert.
One of the recurring themes emerging from Donald Trump's White House – apart from chaos that could spiral into global thermonuclear war at any minute – is that he has such a lack of interest in and engagement with the issues you'd think the Leader of the Free World would be on-top of that he'll tend to go with the last persuasive person who gets his attention.
Il Gusto makes a decent stab at redemption with its final argument: An orange panna cotta was smooth, fragrant and sweet, with sharpness provided by a fruit compote of berries, cherries and blackcurrants.
It was very good and would only have benefited from a little added texture.
Some of the pistachios from the top of the tiramisu would have worked.
The only thing the tiramisu would have benefitted from was another portion.
Underneath the pistachios, the mascarpone was rich and sweet with occasional bursts of deep coffee flavour from the saturated sponge.
The actual coffee they served was very good too, and the stout Americanos nearly lasted long enough to contemplate how bad it would look to order another couple of tiramisus.
What? Relax, sure it's February already.
:: The Bill
Calamari with garlic fries £9
Panna Cotta £3.50
Large Sparkling water £4
Americano x2 £3.80