Much-loved Pretoria chef, the gregarious Fortunato Mazzone (or Forti, as he is fondly known), has opened Forti Grill & Bar at Sun International’s newest casino, Time Square in Menlyn, Pretoria. Even though there were tears at the closure of his former restaurant Ritrovo, a landmark for fine Italian fare, it was time for Forti to spread his wings and take flight with new dreams.
The adventurous can have loads of fun with Forti’s new menu. Groups of carnivores, for example, can order a meat platter that will deliver a wooden board with cuts to match the number of diners. You’ll get sirloin, rump, T-bone, fillet and rib eye, all from the same animal, which means you can really compare the cuts. It’s not only presented stylishly, but introduces stunning taste sensations, with five sauces on the side.
Ritrovo regulars will find much familiarity here, but in slightly different form. To start, there’s the classic Caesar salad; Sicilian orange salad delivering simplicity and freshness with fresh fruit, fennel, mint, black olives, Spanish onion and a citrus dressing; and the very popular rich and creamy lamb kidneys with marsala wine, double cream, mustard and black pepper. You probably won’t have space for more than a pasta following that.
As for the pasta, there’s the lip-smacking fettuccine frutti di mare with baby clams, prawns, mussels, calamari, tomato and white wine, or the subtler spaghetti carbonara with egg yolk, olive oil, crispy imported pancetta and parmesan. You could saunter across to watch your pasta being prepared in a space that Forti views as theatre rather than kitchen.
If meat or fish is your preference, there’s a choice between juicy and tender lemon chicken or the crisp pork belly served smartly with pickled ginger, sweet potato mash, curried cabbage and caramelised baby onions (for some, more familiar as slap hakskeentjies). For another route, give a nod to an old favourite of prawns inspired by Forti’s dad, Giovanni.
Rounding off the meal with a touch of sweetness, there’s no better way than the light and airy bignè with crema pasticcera (also known as a profiterole), a cleansing watermelon sorbet, or the comforting arborio rice pudding with rooibos syrup.
How can you fail at Forti’s, with three Springbok chefs showing their stuff as well as a sweeter-than-sweet patisserie chef that hopes to have your tongue tingling?
And then there’s still the butcher with his outstanding butcher’s block, the cigar nook tucked away in a corner with its overwhelming stash, and the many types of dining experiences, tasting menus and the like.
The offering is impressive, from the wine list, which has an imaginative individual flair, to the visible storage display that’s part of the dining experience. The grape is another of the owner’s passions, as evidenced by the Nick & Forti’s range of wines and his special suggestions of pairings with food. He wants people to drink great wines and you won’t easily find a better selection than what is offered here. There’s also a serious list of whisky or, if you’re in a lighter mood, some chic cocktails or exotic beers to add colour to the meal.
Forti’s always-impressive staff members have simply moved from one spot to another without missing a beat. They will guide you through a meal as sweetly as they know how. This is the kind of place where you ask for advice, the special dish of the day or a specific wine you should sip with your specific meal.
It is the comfort infused into this elegant fine-dining experience that turns Forti’s from simply chic into charming. The setting expands into some of the best views in the city and a deck area that will hum in summer, and the interiors are cleverly designed to be both chic and comfortable, with eye-catching Stephen Pikus chandeliers, gorgeous specially crafted crockery, old-fashioned napkins, and bright art that lights up the place. Forti’s is an impressive venue that’s been daringly yet subtly orchestrated.
The double-volume floor-to-ceiling height offers many special spaces, including the dining area, two private rooms, and a kitchen visible from all angles. This is an occasion and should be treated as such. There’s no need to dress up, but you can. If you come to play with the passion they demand, you will be rewarded.
When entering the world of Time Square Casino, take the escalator up two floors and the people at Forti’s will welcome you with a smile.