Gusto Italian is planning to get back on the acquisition trail and push further south on the map, after a four year pause on new openings.

The Palatine-backed premium casual dining group currently operates from 12 sites, after the closure of six of its sites following a CVA last summer but has lined up a new location on Nottingham’s King Street for a planned November opening.

Chief executive Matt Snell told MCA the business was looking to build up its pipeline and restart pre-pandemic plans to expand its geographical presence away from its north and north west heartland.

“We see ourselves in London and some of the Home Counties regions in the next couple of years,” said Snell, with locations like Oxford, Reading and Cambridge on the agenda.

He said Gusto had not tied itself to a target, with the expansion plan “open-ended” but that it would be taking a very targeted approach to new sites, only acquiring if they truly fit the criteria.

While there has not been “the tsunami of new properties” that operators were expecting, due to the rent moratorium being extended, Snell said it has found that expectations about rental value, and incentives associated with a new lease, have improved, with landlords more realistic about affordability.

The new Nottingham site will open with a new look and feel for Gusto, featuring a pizza chef’s table, open kitchen and coffee and cannoli bar. “We wanted to make it more experiential and add some theatre to what happens in a restaurant setting,” he explained, with all lot of the inspiration coming from one of his favourite restaurants, The River Café in Hammersmith.

Snell said the new format would be rolled out to all future openings and elements of the concept will be introduced to its core estate as part of its ongoing refurbishment programme.

The group previously had a presence in West Bridgford in Nottingham, and Snell is hopeful that the new venue will benefit from much greater footfall with theatres, cinema and the shopping centre all 100 yards from the restaurant.

Snell said the new opening marked “a new chapter for us as we come out of a very tough 18 months”.

Earlier this Gusto appointed Ann Elliott to its boards as a non-executive director with its senior team now positioned for growth.