22nd March 2023
Gusta is an Italian deli and cafe situated at the top end of Camden Road. It overlooks Market Square and Royal Victoria Place shopping centre. Many a time I have stopped by in the summer to order one of their excellent cups of coffee, whilst sitting at a prized table outside, basking in the sunshine. I had never thought of eating here, but then I took a glance at their menu and figured this is definitely worth a lunchtime session, if only for the cakes and croissants sitting in big glass cases, tempting me in. As I enter this twenty cover establishment, lots of people are waiting for take-out, happily chatting to the team. Everyone is talking Italian which I love and instantly ask myself, why did I not keep up those lessons. There is something so expressive, so romantic about this language. Say anything and it sounds better.
I am greeted by the lovely Mari who takes me to the main seating area at the back of the restaurant. The front houses their meats, cheeses, wine and quality household staples like the finest olive oils, tomatoes, pasta and olives. I’m making a mental hamper as I pass them all. Why oh why did I not visit sooner. The back is completely full of locals enjoying lunch on a busy Saturday. It’s already obvious this place is a hidden gem because they are all telling me how wonderful the team, drinks and food are. One of them gives me a loyalty card where after nine stamps you get a free coffee. I think he likes it here because he keeps complimenting the staff and saying, “don’t forget your stamp”! He also explains the old adage, “Several Italian people eat here, so it’s got to be good”. There are fairy lights all over the ceiling and cute blackboards with anecdotes and messages. Despite there being only one window, the place is surprisingly light and airy.
Mari brings over a board with some of their Finocchiona and Napoli salami, warm bread and pepper pecorino. I love the distinctive fennel and pepper in these meats and the cheese is a joy, wonderfully satisfying. I opt for a very large cappuccino as I need waking up from the previous night’s revelry. The coffee is supplied by Café del Golfo in Brighton. This Neapolitan is 60% Arabica and 40% Robusta. I could drink it all day they make it so smooth. Gusta have three board options, a meat, cheese or mixed one. You can have three, five or seven varieties of meat or cheese, served with bread and olives. I am glad to be tasting their choice as the portions are huge.
The menu is split into breakfast, light bites, salads, Pinsa Romana, panini, boards and pasta. There is also a section called “The Greedy Italian”, with three of their finest dishes. Mari brings me a huge panini, their signature named, “Campano”, is a combination of buffalo mozzarella and 24 months matured Parma ham, a lot of Parma ham. It comes with a green salad laced in a very pleasant Moniga del Garda virgin olive oil, which they also sell. I have to say, it’s a monster. In London this would probably cost around upwards of £12, but here it’s £8.50, serious value for
money, size and quality. I am pleased to know their greens are supplied by Locality down the road. I love that so many of the restaurants and cafes on this road support them, their produce is excellent.
I notice they have information about wine nights on a blackboard. Mari tells me they are held every six weeks by their wine supplier Marco. He covers different regions of Italy and guests are served small plates during the evening. I think I will attend one as I am starting to get a warm, fuzzy feeling, I really like it here.
As well as great coffee they also have a selection of teas, including Italian ice tea, milkshakes, soft drinks like Italian brand fruit juices and San Pellegrino drinks, non- alcoholic beers and wines. For summer there is Moretti beer, Aperol Spritz and a Rossini on offer. I wish they had more outside space as I could sit here all day.
Dessert changes regularly. I choose a delicate lemon custard and pine nut tart with cream. It tastes superb. I clocked it as I walked in and knew it would be on the table no matter what, even if I do have a belly full of Parma ham. Mari tells me the apricot flan and croissants are also very popular. Apricots are often used in Neopolitan desserts as this region produces the largest volume of the fruit in Italy. In fact, Italy is the number one apricot producer in the whole of Europe. Yes I did look that up! I debate finishing with some cannoli and more of that delicious coffee, but I finally give in. There’s only so much this chubster can demolish.
Before I leave I peruse all of the deli goods again. It would be a crime not to buy something, but then I hear the familiar delivery platform buzzer ringing. Mari tells me they are very popular on all three and so I am delighted I can order from the comfort of my own home.
I am decidedly happy to have enjoyed such a pleasant lunch here and will definitely return for many of their treats. As I am frequently quoted saying, “Go with an empty belly”, you’re gonna need it! Thanks Gusta, see you again soon.
All words are my own. Review exclusively for the TN card.
Member reward: 10% off coffee and soft drinks to take away or to enjoy in. Find out more here.