Guido Cavaliere believes that a focus on authenticity is helping differentiate his new Italian restaurant at Lanyon Place in Belfast. There’s nothing like Gusto e anywhere else in the city, he says…
Italian restaurateur, Guido Cavaliere saw two years of complex planning come to fruition just before Christmas when he opened the doors on a new 150-seater restaurant at Lanyon Place in Belfast.
Gusto e is the family’s second authentic Italian eatery in Northern Ireland. Readers may remember that in April 2017, LCN reported on the enduring success of the Cavaliere’s first venue, Sapori Italiani, which opened on The Mall in Newry in 2001.
Both restaurants are dedicated to recreating the authentic taste of southern Italy and the family goes to great lengths to source and import artisan ingredients from that region for use in its kitchens. Guido’s sister, Elisabetta, spends a considerable amount of her time researching and negotiating with small, specialist suppliers in Italy.
‘Gusto e isn’t the sort of Italian restaurant that customers in Belfast are going to be used to seeing,’ Guido told LCN this month. ‘What we’re after here is the real, authentic Italian experience and it’s going to be different from anything that you experience anywhere else in the city.
‘What many others do is, they find the product that is most readily available here in Northern Ireland, they don’t research anything different, something that might come from a smaller producer. But we spend time to find the companies that make something special that suits our needs.’
Guido explains that when most local people go on holiday to Italy, they visit the north of the country, but most of the artisan food production goes on in the south – the weather is better there and that’s where most of the agriculture is based.
‘The south isn’t better than the north, but many people do really enjoy the food and the produce that comes from the south because of things like the weather and the rich soil. Everything grows very well in the south and the produce there is excellent,’ adds Guido.
Guido had hoped to unveil Gusto e in August last year, but delays meant that the restaurant finally opened its doors – for breakfasts and lunch only – a few weeks before Christmas and began opening for dinner in the evenings at the end of January.
‘We wanted to have time to check the area out and get to know our customers, what they wanted and what their expectations were from us’ explains Guido. ‘We were pleased with what we found, the people that were coming in told us that they liked the offering, the quality and the exclusive food and wine.’
The expansive new Belfast restaurant is light and airy and in contrast to the colourful, very rustic approach taken in Newry, Gusto e is uncompromisingly modern. Cast in muted pastel shades, the restaurant is effectively divided in two – one section is dedicated to breakfast and lunch custom, the other is for evening dining.
In the centre is the kitchen area and the bar, where customers can order an aperitivo or choose from a selection of classic Italian cocktails.
‘We came to this particular spot because we saw something nice in the area and because we thought this area of Belfast really needed an authentic Italian restaurant,’ says Guido. ‘Also, this part of Belfast is still growing and we didn’t want to be right in the centre of the city, we wanted to be out of it a little bit.’
And he adds:
‘We are cooking the same food here that we cook in our own homes. These are authentic Italian dishes, it’s what our customers expect and it’s working well for us at the moment. Our customers are saying to us that they have never experienced this type of food before, they really enjoy it and in the three weeks that we’ve been open, we’ve had a lot of customers that have been back two or three times.’
There are five staff in the kitchen at Gusto e under the watchful eye of head chef, Filomena D’Uvr whom Guido recruited directly from the south of Italy for the Belfast job.
Additional kitchen and front-of-house staff are currently being trained but like almost everyone in hospitality in NI at present, Guido admits that sourcing skilled people isn’t proving easy:
‘It’s not simple because we are after people that have real passion,’ he adds. ‘We understand that you might not have a particular passion for Italian food, but we really need people who are eager to serve the customer, find out their needs, explain the menu to them and just talk to them. That’s the approach we took in Newry and it worked well for us there.’
Guido reports that since opening fully a few weeks ago, business at Gusto e has lived up to expectations.
‘The focus for us now is on creating the experience of eating food from the areas that we come from,’ says Guido. ‘We want to give our customers the same food that we eat in our own homes and we want to explain to them where it has come from. You really need to experience the full range of what Italy has to offer before you decide what you like or don’t like.’
As for the future, Guido is emphatic that expansion is being considered although he won’t reveal when or where that might happen:
‘We are very happy so far with our experience of Belfast and we would very much like to do more.’