The word Gusto means 'enjoyment and enthusiasm in doing something.' It's a term that harks back to 17th century Italy, derived from the Latin gusts meaning 'taste.' So, a restaurant called Gusto should, in theory, be a place where one can appreciate food wholeheartedly and passionately relish suitably Italian flavours. Was Sean Connolly's new Italian eatery in the SKYCITY Grand on Federal Street going to deliver? We set out with high expectations and appropriately empty stomachs eager to find out.
If you're the type who likes to take in the sights you'll be impressed with the space. The dining room seats 90 and between artist Jason Benjamin's 'Love in Venice' (a four-metre-long octopus), a expansive open kitchen and the suave and distinctly European combination of white Arabescato marble, gold onyx, cherry-toned timber and tan leathers the aesthetics were attractive to say the least.
Matching the great space was a splendid menu. One that was neither short nor long but, like a good resume, only featured things of distinction. In keeping with the spirit of the restaurant, we decided to enthusiastically embrace this menu. We started with house-made ricotta, honey and pine nuts ($14), a garlic and rosemary pizzetta ($6) and Tuna Crudo (raw) with green apple and radish ($22) matched with the classic aperitivo – a Negroni. A second entrée of the Sardinian ravioli with potato, mint, Pecorino and sage butter ($26) was shared, and then followed by mains of fried calamari with lemon and roast garlic aioli ($22) and a crumbed veal cutlet with lemon ($32).
The dishes had that magic quality of being honest and seemly simple yet tasting extraordinary. What's more, they were both deliciously satisfying on their own as well as wonderfully complimentary together. The creamy ricotta drizzled with honey tasted incredible with the soft, warm rosemary-infused pizzetta bread. Even sharing the calamari and a generous rare crumbled veal cutlet felt right. As did ordering dessert even though we'd clearly had enough. We sampled the Rum Baba 1835 ($14) (a positively decedent brioche-like cake drowned in rum), and a warm chocolate pudding with pistachio ice-cream ($14).
On recommendation we drank the Vesevo 'Beneventano Falanghina,' an Italian vino bianco in vogue at the moment for the good reason that it tasted sublime with absolutely everything. This one is well worth ordering.
Gusto manages to straddle a number of different offerings effortlessly. It's classy, refined and high quality, from the setting, to the food, to the service, which was impeccable. Yet it is relaxed, generous, familial and special. This does feel like a place to enjoy the finer things in life – good food, wine and company – with vigour.