Small but mighty Italian beats the big guys with a perfect pizza
Italian restaurants have gone through something of a renaissance over the last decade or so. Gone are the red gingham tablecloths, candle wax encrusted Chianti bottles and faded pictures of Tuscan villas. Now it’s all sleek marble surfaces, leather chairs and a shiny bar big enough to accommodate both diners and the cocktails and prosecco set.
They are usually part of a big name chain too, and as they muscle in many of the smaller independent establishments get overlooked. But fortunately there are still plenty surviving - and if you look hard enough you’ll come across little gems like Il Gusto d’Italia in Bamber Bridge.
A tiny little shop tucked away on School Lane, just off the town’s bustling Station Road, it has its own cosy style with none of the ubiquitous interiors of the could-be-anywhere restaurants so common across the country. They also have a sister restaurant on Watery Lane in Ashton-on-Ribble and have experience of those big guys when, in 2016, they were forced to change their name from Gusto Italia under pressure from national chain Gusto.
Not very friendly. But when we arrived on a rainy Sunday tea-time the atmosphere felt welcoming with a good sprinkling of early diners and plenty of Christmas twinkle. The centre-piece, a wood-fired oven, was providing a wonderful warmth and some delicious aromas.
The surprisingly extensive menu is packed full of all the Italian favourites plus some interesting extras such as a beetroot risotto and the orientale pizza with plum sauce and crispy duck. They also offer healthy options, gluten free pasta and there’s a selection of paninis available at lunchtimes too.
For the three of us though it was stuffed mushrooms and pork spare ribs to start and lemon seabass, a piccante pizza and a bowl of spag bol to follow. The place was busy with takeaway orders coming in thick and fast but our first courses arrived in no time. A very generous portion, my ribs were piled high and smothered in thick, sweet, sticky sauce. The meat simply slipped off the bone and melted in the mouth while a garnish of pea shoots gave a lovely bit of zing to all that richness.
The mushrooms were just as much of a success. Often served sizzling in a cast iron pan these came on a plate - and at an edible temperature! Dense and crispy and coated with a parmesan crumb, a drizzle of balsamic and a salad garnish added a fruity sharpness to balance the dish out.
Meanwhile, The Younger was already tucking in to her early main and it did everthing it said on the tin. Al dente pasta. Plenty of rich, meaty sauce. Perfetto!
My lemon seabass hit the spot too. Beautifully cooked with a crispy skin, the fish was soft, moist and delicately flavoured. Rocket, parmesan and capers added lots of sharp, saltiness while my option of rice on the side soaked up the lovely, lemony butter. My added portion of vegetables - carrots, green beans and peas - were a fresh and perfectly cooked addition.
But it was the pizza that proved to be the star of the show. All 14” of the flavoursome feast could just about fit on to the plate. There was a perfect balance of quality ingredients - fresh veg, creamy mozzerella and the piquant spice of just the right amount of chilli, spicy beef and pepperoni. All complimented by the occasional burst of a dark olive. Filling him to the limit, he challenges anyone to find a better pizza in the area! Quite an endorsement.
Desserts consisted of an Eton Mess for me, profiteroles for Significant Other and a chocolate fudge cake for The Younger. The quality and portion sizes continued - mine was full of soft, sharp and crumbly sweetness; the cake was dark, rich and gooey and everything was topped off with fresh fruit. The profiteroles had just the right amount of cream, fresh pastry and plenty of chocolate but - and this is the only ‘but’ of the entire meal - came on a roof slate. Makes your cutlery sound like nails on a blackboard!
Our bill for all that fantastic food came to a rather indulgent £81.80 which included three pints, a glass of wine and three soft drinks. Don’t be put off by our extravagance though, you could easily enjoy the same quality food on a much smaller budget. Although it’s not available in December, the rest of the year Il Gusto d’Italia offer an Early Bird menu of two courses for just £9.95, Tuesday to Sunday until 7pm and all day on Mondays. With four or five starter and main course options it’s incredible value.
So why not give the grumpy Goliaths a miss and dine with David for a change?
Il Gusto d’Italia
50b School Lane
Tel: 01772 626652