Featured Restaurant: Gusto Bistro

3rd August 2018

47B Lower Road • Chorleywood • WD3 5LQ • 01923 286331

Reviewed by Lisa Botwright

“This isn’t just any restaurant,” claims Chef Patron Allan Himowicz, as he greets me and my husband on our arrival at this tiny and unassuming bistro. And he’s right. Where else does a celebrated and highly trained chef show you to your table, and then, as we find, serve you and chat with you between courses…?

The restaurant began life as a deli, serving coffee and baguettes to Chorleywood residents six years ago. Allan, exhausted by the long hours of a top chef, was seeking a better work-life balance and opened this small ‘labour of love’ – only to get itchy feet a couple of years ago, and miss being able to develop his culinary flair. ‘Deli’ thus morphed to ‘bistro’.

The place still retains a relaxed café vibe – there are toys for children to play with on a shelf, for example – and there is no alcohol licence, as yet, although there’s no charge for corkage. The decor is tasteful, but there are no crisp white linen table cloths, or other traditional hallmarks of fine dining. Just a chef with a zeal for good food…

I ask Allan for his recommendations and he insists we try several starters: two cold, and one hot. He brings Smoked Salmon served with a simple dressed mixed leaf salad and Burrata (“the Dom Pérignon of mozzarella,” he calls it) on a bed of sliced tomatoes, and drizzled with ‘good’ olive oil – and slightly later, some Wild Mushroom Risotto.

This is simple, unpretentious food, where the quality of the ingredients is left to speak for itself. And it doesn’t just speak, it boldly proclaims its gloriousness. Every mouthful is better than the last. The salmon has a serious smoky depth that lingers on the palate – it’s smoked locally, Allan tells us – and the buratta… Oh my goodness the buratta… I bite through the mozzarella shell and the soft creamy filling fills my mouth. It’s so good, it barely needs any further adornment, but Allan brings us some hot crusty bread and a dish of his home-made Genovese pesto, that I concede lifts its loveliness further. The accompanying tomatoes taste homegrown: like tomatoes used to, before supermarkets compromised flavour for homogenised yield and resistance. They’re delicious.

And then I sample the risotto, made from six different types of wild mushrooms, and a fair bit of Allan’s magic… Its intense savouriness is incomparable. My husband (H)and I fight over the last few mouthfuls, our forks duelling as we gather up the last remaining grains of rice, butter and stock.

I’ve chosen Seared Filet of Sea Bream for my main, and H has selected Crispy Confit of Gressingham Duck Leg: both favourites of ours and therefore open to comparison to the many variants we’ve eaten over the years. But again, each dish holds its own with assurance. The fish is seared crisp skin-side, and has meltingly soft flesh. Its served on a medley of buttery broccoli, green beans and pan-fried new potatoes that complement it perfectly. The duck, too, has the requisite crispy skin, enveloping slow-cooked meltingly tender meat.

Desserts are homemade daily and we tuck into Strawberry and Vanilla Cheescake, with Allan’s specially blended mint-infused tea to finish. Now, we can barely move from our seats, we’re so replete.

Within such a small eaterie, the proximity of the chef could be awkward – but since the food is so outstanding, it makes it a pleasure to be able to give immediate praise and feedback. H and I wholeheartedly agree that it’s not just any restaurant.

STARTERS: £7.50-£8.50 • MAINS: £7.85-£18.25
DESSERTS: £7.50 • HOUSE WINE: N/A

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