There were some warning signals when I walked into Gustatio, just off the main market square in central Groningen, Netherlands.
An empty restaurant
At 1pm, I was the first customer (and remained the only one). In a city centre as busy as Groningen, that should have been concerning. But I was in, and there was no escaping. The menu arrived with well-thumbed plastic sleeves that give me the ick. At least, the Italian classics on offer sounded familiar and my drink order arrived quickly.
It had been a hot morning in Groningen and I’d cycled the 6 kilometres from my campsite so the air conditioning was welcome. I decided on comfort food: Caprese Salad and Gnocchi al Manzo. As these were likely to be popular dishes, I felt there’d be decent turnover on stock, even if this was a busier evening restaurant and a slow lunchtime joint.
The Netherlands has excellent produce quality and these tomato slices arrived with a punch of colour and flavour. The proportion of mozzarella was on the generous side and was crowned with a generous heaping of sliced basil leaves. There had been a decent glug of olive oil and all this lacked was a crack of black pepper and a pinch of decent fleur de sel. Overall, a good and fresh starter.
The Main Course
It took a little while for the gnocchi to be served and perhaps I had built it up to be more appealing than it appeared. The pieces of gnocchi were very good, pillowy and with just the right amount of give. My concern was with the colour of the sauce. Perhaps it was the light at my window seat, but the meat sauce was greyer than I would have liked and it make this dish less appetising than it could have been. There was some chew to the meat, which had been stewed in red wine. There was nothing that the addition of lashings of parmesan couldn’t fix. However, the visuals do matter and a beef sauce can be tweaked into a variety of rich outcomes.
I did get to speak to one of the owners after my meal and I have to say I did feel very welcome at Gustatio. That goes a long way to ensuring a return visit is likely. Next time, I’d take the trouble to chat to the staff members about what is in season and to better align my expectations with what appears.