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Back Buzz - June 29, 2008

pumping heartGusto Italiano, 18 Church Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

I was sad to notice that one of my favourite Sheffield cafes, FOB, had ceased to exist. In its place had sprouted a new cafe which I fully intended to visit. But before I knew it, that cafe had also become extinct.

I didn't have to wait too long before the cafe reopened as Gusto Italiano. After a recommendation from a reader I decided to try it out.

Gusto Italiano's layout is not that different from FOB's, although it feels just a little bit roomer. This could well be an optical illusion created by the layout, style, and particular feng shui of chairs and tables, because the cafe itself is the same size as before. After being warmly greeted by the young lady behind the counter I seated myself on a very comfy leather sofa near the window. The pleasant young lady brought my double macchiato to me in a perfectly sized cup along with a demitasse spoon, a small chocolate, and a glass of ice water, prompting me to be so bold as to give the place an A+ for service. The coffee they use, Cáffe Mokarabia, is very silky smooth, so ultra smooth that normally I would be a bit disappointed because I do like a strong robust bean. But I have to admit my drink was perfectly made, absolutely gorgeous to look at, and it tasted very very nice as well.

The food menu is tempting, featuring a variety of panini all priced at £3.95, salads, pizza slices, and several hot mains including aubergine Parmesan, lasagne, and specials of the day. Snack items are also available, such as olives and bread, along with wine and Peroni beer. Italian deli items such as dried pasta, sauces, vinegars, and oils are displayed for sale behind the bar. The cafe is run by Esterina Celva and Bruno Saverio, both former employees of Nonna's in Ecclesall Road.

From my increasingly comfy nest of a leather sofa I enjoyed the late afternoon view of the street outside, with the passing trams and buses and Pirates Pastys and Horizon Recruitment across the street. There is a low-profile counter with stools directly in the window, so you can have an as-if-you-were-out-there view of the pavement. Wait a minute -- did I just see Omad Djalili walk by?

No, it's probably just a dream and I've fallen asleep in this lovely sofa. Perhaps I've been asleep all afternoon, because there is something very strange about the time. I left work a short walk away at 3:05. I took a quick tour through the Millennium Gallery, then I strolled through the Winter Garden, and then I spent a little while in the Graves Art Gallery. When I left the gallery I noticed the clock said 2:55. Startled, I checked my mobile: it was 3:38 which seemed more logical. So I stopped in Wicker Herbal to buy some nuts, and then I walked up to Fargate and made a stop in a bank, where the wait is always torturously slow whether there are one or twelve people in the queue. Then I walked down the street to Gusto Italiano, ordered my drink, sat down, and looked up at the clock: it was 2:55 again!

Even though time keeps jerking backwards like the stripped cog of a worn-out gear, I feel so relaxed. I suspect this is because although this is a cafe in the trendy hideously overpriced West Street (which is what everybody calls Church Street because it's basically the same as West Street, unless you want to call it the High Street or Glossop Road), it offers a special sort of validity, as if it's run with genuine love. There's a bit of magic here as well. If I sit here until it's 2:55 again, will I find myself in ancient Japan? Or perhaps Italy in the 1920s?

Guess I'll have to order another macchiato and see what happens...

Speaking of time travel reminds me of a recent completely unrelated e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend:

As the news coming from my family has not been very good lately, I'm trying to keep my wits about me. So here are some interesting items I've read in the UK news:

1. A line of cosmetics was pulled from stores in Singapore after Roman Catholics complained. The Lookin' Good for Jesus line, which includes bubble bath and a "Get Tight With Christ" cream, promises to "redeem your reputation and more".

2. A recent Observer article lists some of the man-made debris floating around in outer space about which officials are concerned. These dangerous objects include a glove (lost by astronaut Ed White in 1965), a pair of pliers (from the International Space Station), and two cameras lost by astronauts, one which is definitely a Nikon. So if I can't use my Skylab Catcher's Mitt (which I won from LA Radio Station KROQ years ago) to catch the spy satellite, perhaps I can catch myself a new camera.

3. Did you know it's illegal to smuggle haggis into the US? As haggis is a traditional food for Burns Night, there is a big market for traditional Scottish haggis for British expats. The reason haggis is banned is because it contains sheep lung, and lung is specifically banned from import into the US. Anyone who brings in haggis can expect a hefty $1000 fine. So I'll have to make sure on future visits I leave all my haggis at home.

4. On a takeaway menu we received for a new Chinese/Thai restaurant in Hillsborough, it says for orders over £20 they will include a free bottle of cake! I'd like to see how one is supposed to get the cake out... Take a deep breath and relax. Soak in a bath of Lookin Good for Jesus, grab a can of haggis and a bottle of cake, then recline outside with your catcher's mitt, waiting for that Nikon to fall.