I know what you’re going to say: here’s another chain restaurant Millward is going to slag off. More moaning for no reason against a blameless restaurant turning out perfectly decent grub. In mitigation, I’ll say that my tirades against the curse of over-marketed chain commoditisation are founded on good evidence, though I do recognise they are popular and make a whole lot of people very happy.
But of course, we must recognise that sweeping generalisations should not apply: not all chains are alike, so they must be assessed individually on their merits. I’ve been to Browns a number of times and found it perfectly decent, particularly the Cambridge branch, though I do wish they and any other chains I’ve booked in wouldn’t bury my inbox in promotions and emails packed with marketing hype and gimmicks – nature of the beast, I’m afraid. No such fear in the case of Gusto in Alderley Edge, since my sister’s family and I went there as passing trade and did not leave our contact details.
We were far from alone though – the place is hugely popular, especially with families. Ironic how times change. I did notice crayons and colouring books being brought out for children but at another table two kids were playing with their tablets, mum and dad tapping away on mobiles and grandma was sitting looking bereft and mournful.
Even a cursory glance demonstrated that Gusto applies gusto to its kitted out at the quality end of the market, from the beautiful display of flowers in a large trophy near the entrance to the post-industrial design with attractive fixtures and fittings. Decor to fill a large space they have off to a tee, even if the spiral staircase to the upper dining room is dodgy for some – including the small child I saw descending.
Gusto evidently does a fine job catering local tastes with a range extending through pizzas (some decidedly non-traditional and global), pastas, burgers, grills, breads, salads, wines and cocktails. Apparently the locals include the football fraternity living in the so-called “golden triangle” (Alderley-Prestbury-Mottram St Andrew), evidenced by this quote from the local press from a few years back:
Manchester Uniteds Wayne Rooney took his wife Coleen for a quiet meal at “Gusto” restaurant in Alderley Edge on Tuesday night. If Wayne wanted to relax and forget the Manchester Derby result he wasn’t having much luck as Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was also in Gusto at the same time with a party of 12 Italian friends and family. Mancini left first at about 9.40pm followed by the Rooneys at about 10.10pm.
In fact, my brother-in-law thought he spotted a soap actress there, but couldn’t quite put a name to the face. Not why I choose to eat in an establishment but celeb-spotting probably helps keep the tills ticking over too.
Anyway, back to the loosely Italian menu, the length of which tells you a good proportion of dishes are not cooked from scratch on the premises, even if pizza doughs and possibly pastas probably are. The meats, cheeses and other ingredients were probably vacuum packed, but enough of that.
A round of breads, olives and a hummus (I said loosely Italian) to start impressed – particularly the spectacular and puffy fresh-baked flatbread accompanying a hummus topped with pesto (the Italian job.) The hummus itself was very decent, much more the consistency of a thick paste than the near-runny dip common in some restaurants. Even the olives (unpitted) were superior, including as they did some of the finer Castelvetrano variety (aka Nocellara del Belice.)
For the mains, my niece chose the classic margarita and Bob the less classic BBQ chicken pizza, both of which looked great. My sister had a salad (and I had the same as side salad), as follows:
Beetroot, green bean and goat’s cheese salad with pickled walnut vinaigrette and lemon dressing
Allowing for large chunks of beetroot and goat’s cheese, this was actually pretty decent stuff, though you’d have struggled to taste walnut in the vinaigrette. Which brings me neatly to my main:
White crab, chilli and garlic with fresh lemon spaghetti
First bad sign: it tasted overwhelmingly fishy; as any foodie knows, spankingly fresh seafood does not taste fishy. In fact, it was more fishy than crabby, in spite of the chunks of crab meat therein. I’d much sooner the dish be removed from the menu if they can’t obtain tiptop crab, which is typically a supply chain issue when you have ingredients not available locally. There were both chilli and garlic to be seen in the dish, but surprisingly neither surfaced in the flavour. Of lemon I tasted nothing, though the pasta was well past the point of being al dente.
We stopped short of desserts, which might have been a trifle wise though since the bulk of these would have been ordered in I expect they were perfectly harmless.
So – noble ambition but execution lacking, which is really the point about chains. My advice is this: you will be far better off to go where the food is fresh and local and varies with the season, though that will not stop the chain juggernaut. Try the excellent Fosters fish & chip shop over the road!