You may wonder sometimes who the people are behind your favourite blogs. What slick personalities sit behind hot laptops pouring their hearts into words for you to enjoy? What are their impossibly pert and glamorous lives full of food, product and place reviews really like? How do they dress? Can they hold a conversation as well as they can wield a keyboard? What do they look like? Do they smell nice?
More than likely, of course, you’ve never wondered any of this. But here’s why you should keep reading. Not only did we get the cream of the North East blogging scene into one room, but we got them all together for a very special occasion, our very first – our inaugural, if you’ll let us be uncharacteristically florid – #ScranSocial. And not only did we round all of these people up in one place, we did it with style, we did it with grace, and we literally did it with Gusto.
Nestled on the banks of the River Tyne with the Baltic, the millennium bridge, and the gleaming glades of Gateshead resplendent before it, the good people of Newcastle Gusto Restaurant and Bar invited a bunch of us eclectic, ravenous bloggers into their home.
So, one glorious afternoon in the city we made our way across their beautiful, expansive terrace, spackled with sunlight, bedecked with diners, and ringing with the clinky-clink of glass meeting glass and cutlery meeting plate, and made our way into their luxurious venue.
Airy, warm and autumnal with gorgeous leather and rich wood in abundance, the ground floor dining area is cornered by a long bar and peek into their kitchen, and loomed-over by a voluminous spiral staircase leading up and beyond 200 year-old olive trees bedecked with fairy lights to a glamorous but just-on-the-right-side-of-ostentatious upper area, with intimate booth seating and a feature wall of densely-packed, stark black-and-white photography. As first impressions go, it’s one of those ones that makes you suddenly realize you stopped talking mid-sentence to the people you arrived with.
So we found ourselves perched on a long bench table sat thronged on both sides by just over thirty people brought together by a love of fine food and experiences, and an even greater love of telling people all about them. The idle getting-to-know you chatter ensued as Jess and the Gusto team made us feel immediately and resolutely welcome, taking a genuine, warm pleasure in having us round their place to shamelessly show off. We didn’t know what we were in for yet, but things were looking good.
Before the food and drink arrives though, the place was buzzing with people who follow each other’s work getting to know each other. Hannah of Raspberry Kitsch fame, Sarah of the titular sarahbosson.com, Alexis of Newcastle Sparkles, Chloe from Prosecco and Pie, the New Girl in Town herself Chloe Dawson, Tasha from Hello Freckles and many, many more mingled alongside Scran on the Tyne editor/boss lady Miss Archer and myself.
All very nice. And then it began.
Whisked over to a table bedecked and groaning with a bunch of wines and manned by our host, the tall, knowledgeable and very snappily dressed sommelier Jonny, we were about to have ourselves a bit of an experience.
Starting us off with the Bastianich Vigne Orso Sauvignon Bianco, Jonny took us straight in with this tropically fruity, crisply elegant number, counter-balanced perfectly and inevitably with the ruby-red Banfi Col di Sasso Cabernet, dazzling our collective tongues with a spicy, black cherry bouquet and a lingering, smoky-fruit finish. The climax of the show was a cheeky sucker-punch from a kicker of an outrageously sweet and decadent dessert wine, D’Arenberg ‘The Stump Jump’ Sticky Chardonnay. Sticky it was. But lovely no less.
With conversation and wine flowing freely, and bloggers aligning in an almost supernatural fashion on the prefect moment to take those glistening photos, we were ready to start sampling the menu.
We had no idea what was coming.
There were a lot of hungry, picky mouths to feed, so we expected – even having organised the thing – an eclectic yet carefully curated selection of the best their new menu had to offer. Instead, our eyes lit up and our stomachs went into collective cartwheels as we were presented with a near-obscene number of full-plate items brought out in whip-sharp, impeccably timed fashion by the friendly staff.
With whatever Faustian pact Miss Archer had to sign to make this happen tastefully never mentioned, all bets were off we embarked on a feast of biblical proportions.
We were eased-in with a deli boards loaded with bresola, prosciutto ham, salami ventriciana, salami soppressa, speck ham and mortadella, with these fine Italian meats complemented by equally fine and equally Italian cheeses, dolcelatte, taleggio, smoked provola, buffalo mozzarella and pecorino.
A heady, delicious start. But now the game was seriously on as the mains loomed raucously towards us. First up – appropriately for a venue that wears its Italian heritage modishly on its sleeve – came the pastas.
A rich, creamy rigatoni primavera with asparagus spears, peas, fagioli beans, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and crème fraiche, and a vibrant tagliatelle arrabbiata with tomato, chilli, mozzarella and fresh basil with pepperoni, alongside a beautifully seasoned Saffron risotto with white crab salad.
Next came an embarrassment of riches with three delightful pizzas. A classic napolitana, with sardine fillets, anchovies, olives, parsley and mozzarella on a sweet tomato base, a wildcard of slow roast pork, with ventriciana salami, pancetta, caramelised onion, rocket, BBQ sauce and pork scratchings (PORK SCRATCHINGS), and, an easy-to-do-but-hard-to-do-right classic, quattro formaggio with dolcelatte, goat’s cheese and mozzarella on a sweet tomato base finished with rocket and shaved pecorino. They did it more than right.
Rounding out the selection and filling in what few remaining gaps in our collective stomachs remained were an especially fine couple of salads. A wholesome asparagus and avocado mix with baby gem, poached egg and tomato dressing, alongside a raunchier home cured salmon number, with shaved fennel, orange, radish, radicchio, and crème fraiche.
As belts and tongues worked ever looser, the day was rounded off by desserts, all of which we agreed we had no room for, an opinion that quickly went out of the window when the vibrantly colourful and florid final act arrived with an embarrassment of sticky, moreish Italian mess, alongside the jauntily-monikered Bombolini; cute home made mini doughnuts, with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
And with that, it (and we!) was done.
With the crowd dispersed and the gorgeous food an even more gorgeous memory, all that’s left is for us to do two things. First up is to say a huge thanks to the whole Gusto team for having us. An unforgettable day with more than generous hospitality, we really couldn’t have asked for more.
Secondly, get yourself to Gusto. The great food and fast friendly service wasn’t put on just to shine up a bunch of reviewers. They’re a big brand, but they’re in great shape, and with them a great experience is a full time job. As we can heartily confirm after way too many repeat visits post-Scran Social.
Join their Diner’s Club too and get 20% off your total food bill as standard when reserving online, which they astonishingly ramp up to 40% at selected times on occasion.
Located at 106 Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3DX, you can find them at gustorestaurants.uk.com/restaurants/gusto-newcastle too.
Leigh is Scran on the Tyne’s Assistant Editor, and if you’d like to request that he reviews your venue you can email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.