Originally posted 5th August 2018.
What’s the definition of “home”? Four walls that you love coming back to after a hard day at the coalface? The smell of brownies in the evening, a great view, a comfy bed… pictures? A cat, no matter how grumpy he is? A shelf full of tea, a cupboard full of mugs, one more full of booze (in decanters of course, we’re not Neanderthals) or how about just sharing a space with the one you love? Yes, all of the above.
OK, bad start. So what is “home” apart from everything at home? Well how about having a local? Now that The European, Oscar and myself have camped up in a converted artillery warehouse at Royal Arsenal, we have the choice of two pubs and an Italian Restaurant, all steps away from where we keep our tea and mugs.
On a very wet and ultra-hailey Tuesday afternoon, my rented Touran, full of The European’s possessions, Oscar and The European herself, sped north along France’s A31 towards Luxembourg. The inclement weather had rendered the highway almost unpassable, with traffic crawling at less than thirty kilometres per hour, with cars taking refuge from the falling lumps of ice under any bridge they could find. We pressed on. We had long since departed Lausanne, and The European was feeling sad, as her childhood home got further and further away. We were due to stop over at her brother’s place in Luxembourg City, and then the following morning, press on to the tunnel and through to London. It was to be her final taste (for now) of living in Europe. Once settled in Woolwich, we unpacked and took in our surroundings. The general area outside the confines of the redeveloped Arsenal is not very Lausanne-y. For fear of offending anyone, we will just leave it at that. So that evening, I made arrangements to bring a few fond memories back home for my pining princess by visiting the local Italian, Con Gusto.
Con Gusto is the most local of our locals. Nestled on the Thames riverbank, by the local clipper station, you could leap from our lounge window and land in its doorway – assuming our windows opened far enough, which they do not. It’s great for us; not so great for inhabitants of every other London locale, seeing as we were rapidly finding out that Woolwich is kind of at the back of beyond. This is a crying shame, as Con Gusto is certainly worth a detour (it was recently voted best local restaurant for Woolwich and Greenwich in TimeOut’s recent ‘Love London’ awards). We actually found this out the day after we visited; bellies still splendidly full of pasta, beef and grappa.
Con Gusto is located in an old octagonal guardhouse that once upon a time would have greeted the crews of arriving warships, visiting the Royal Arsenal to get tooled up and head back out to fight whoever the United Kingdom happened to be sparring with at the time. The space is barely large enough for the restaurant; a tiny open kitchen, full of grinning, happy chefs that greet you as you enter, and a central bar that seems to dominate the entire space. Alongside one wall are some tables – maybe it sits thirty, not including bar seats – and the fifteen sat along that wall on the banquettes have the best deal as the chairs facing opposite are the smallest I have ever seen in a restaurant. But maybe it’s just my arse that’s gotten fatter.
The menu will not be for everyone as, like the room, it is very small and limited. It was causing quite an amusing degree of confusion with a party of five Americans sat next to us, who were seemingly trying to request every little thing that Con Gusto didn’t offer, giving us not only a good laugh but a first-class lesson on patience from the waitress, who was superb all evening. We caused less drama and ordered burrata with Parma ham and rocket to start. The European, of Italian descent, whose father cooked all and knew all about that fantastic cuisine, declared the starter to be one of the best burratas she has ever had; a good start I think we can say. Her main course, ordered purely out of a sheer love of mash potato, was beef fillet with mash. The beef was so tender, the mash so creamy, that it is hard to think of any way it could be perfected. My pasta, hand-made strozzapreti with sausage, cream and truffle, was ordered because it sounded as rich as fuck… and it was. It was the tiny portion that angered me and my large arse at first, but soon I discovered why, as every delicious mouthful l was filling me up faster than my butter-laden home-made brownie. We were more than happy, and vowed not to order dessert.
So after sharing a creamy tiramisu (delicious, but maybe lacking the drunkenness of an exceptional one), we ordered a round of grappa. Faced with an insurmountable choice, and unsure of which one to take, we sought counsel with the waitress. She returned with the glasses, set them down and simply said with a smile, “Chef’s choice”.
Being a moodivore, I seek the feeling of being fully satisfied with a meal, which goes far beyond divine food. Con Gusto might be small but it’s sleek, charming and very gobackabble. The service was great; and ensconced in the small room, the hubbub and smells enchant couples, who, like us, were chatting away, hand in hand across the table. Even the Americans settled down and seemed to be enjoying themselves.
We are so, so fortunate to have Con Gusto on our doorstep. It certainly keeps The European’s toe on the Continent. It’s not the cheapest place in the world so maybe it might be a monthly treat rather than weekly eats, but I will sleep well after every visit knowing that I saved myself an off-peak return to eat there.
One starter, two mains, one dessert, two beers and two grappa came to just under £ninety
Con Gusto is found at Royal Arsenal Woolwich. Get the DLR to the END OF THE LINE (Woolwich Arsenal) and walk to the Royal Arsenal, following the signs.
- Comfort factor: 7/10
- Returnability factor: 10/10
- Taste factor: 9/10
- Lack of screaming kid factor: 7/10
- Wow factor: 8/10