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A sleek new phase for Forti at Forti Too

TGIFOOD

CHANGING COURSES

A sleek new phase for Forti at Forti Too

Generosity of spirit – one of Forti’s chefs’ own Mozambican dishes. (Photo: Gwynne Conlyn)

Forti is Fortunato Mazzone, larger than life and a towering presence on the Gauteng restaurant scene. Forti Too is his new restaurant.

 

The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food rescued from the food chain. Please support them here. 

Forty-two. The number is that which Douglas Adams picked to be what the supercomputer, Deep Thought, arrives at, as the answer to the lot, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Gwynne Conlyn and I also happen to arrive at 42 minutes to one, after a swift Gautrain trip and then what we expected to be an equally swift Uber ride but which turned out to be in a Pretoria taxi driven by a man who wanted to speak to Forti by phone to get verbal directions. Is the time a coincidence, we wonder as Fortunato Mazzone leads us to a crescent patio outdoor area for pre-drinks.

The first thing we hear as we sit down is a woman exclaiming loudly, “Oe maar dis mooi!” Forti Too is shiny-new and she was probably getting the eyeful for the very first time. Gwynne and I’ve been following the progress to its opening on Facebook. She and Forti go back quite a time.

I knew Forti’s family restaurant, Ritrovo, in Pretoria’s Waterkloof Heights centre, since closed and I think pretty much replaced by this sleekly beautiful place in Lynwood.

My mother lived in Pretoria and, after my taking her to Ritrovo once, I think for a birthday, she became a regular with her food friends. On that first occasion she flirted outrageously with Giovanni Mazzone, had his son Forti kneeling and asking for “advice” about some dish being prepared or maybe the wine. That’s what did it, I say to Gwynne when we’re shown inside to our lunch table. 

Ritrovo had a delicious broccoli dish with anchovies and crumbs that my mother raved about for the superb quality of ingredients in even such a simple dish, to anyone who’d listen. She and I had a version of it near Naples once and she pronounced it as coming close but not being as good as Ritrovo’s.

Giovanni Mazzone came from that area in Campania, from a village called Pietrastornina. Forti still has a house built in 1670 on the village’s piazza, which he visits. 

Giovanni Mazzone (in the photo on the wall) still has an eye on the place. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

As Forti Too was about to open a few weeks ago, Giovanni, already quite ill, passed away. Together the father and son had had fun opening other places such as the BICCCS (bread, ice cream – Giovanni, apart from being a chef was also a baker and had grown up working in a gelateria – cakes, croissants, coffee, sandwiches) and had been planning this flagship Mazzone restaurant.

Forti has positioned his father with an eye on the place. We can see Giovanni and maybe vice versa very clearly across the room from where we are receiving the half portion pastas we ordered. We’ll also be having mains. Forti says, “You must have a pasta before the Secondi to open up the appetite!” 

The lumaconi I have ‘to open up the appetite’. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The tribute corner has that portrait of Giovanni in the centre. To the left are photographic memories from Pietrastornina to Pretoria and on the right is a picture specially painted to commemorate Giovanni, by Pretoria artist Carinda Appelgryn. She would take no payment so, as Forti says, “She has bubbly for life.”

“She’s a very sexy woman,” he adds without a thought for propriety. Is it in the same breath that he tells me, “I’ve fed Gwynne for twenty years”?

I ordered a pasta dish that reminds me of a Ritrovo one I’ve had before. I can’t be exactly sure if it is and but these are lumaconi or big, big snail shell pasta, stuffed with tender beef and mushroom pieces, roasted under a sauce with rosé wine, mozzarella and excellent parmigiana. One bite and I don’t care if it’s the same. This is the baked pasta dish for me. I grudgingly make a halfway mark so that Gwynne can have her half when we swap dishes. I invade her half a little.

She’s making ooh-aah noises with her dish anyway. Hers is one of those excellent-ingredient dishes, fantastic tomatoes, onion, good and real bacon and fresh chillies with homemade pasta strips. It’s called Matriciana and she’s been more honest about halving hers than I was. That’s good because I love hers almost as much as mine. They’re in Le Creuset dishes, I notice. Everything is except a flavoured-butter saucer on the table. 

We have munching time to appreciate some of the beauty of the place. The chandelier is a wavy line of stunner scintillation throughout the length of this crescent-shaped restaurant. The kind of glitter I most appreciate comes from Riedel glasses on the tables and displayed at the bar. Through these and more rooms, private ones, smaller dining areas I noticed as Gwynne and I wandered earlier, there are Forti’s signature looks, like his art collection, the faultless tableware. 

Then there’s the mark, as from the rim of a red wine glass that Forti’s used as a logo. He calls it a culaccino. I spot another Applegryn on an outer wall. He has just bought a statue I believe. Wavy and curved lines meander lazily around Forti Too. The place is huge and I know it has been full every evening since opening. I cannot feign surprise.

The secret, Forti says when our mains arrive and he eyes them proprietorially, to his and his father’s restaurant successes is “generosity of spirit”. My plate overflows with a departure from Italian influenced food that he recommended. One of his chefs is Mozambican and this is his own generous prawn and sardine dish. I stagger mentally for a moment but dig in with some greed. Even before tasting it I can see it is faultless.

The waitress, when re-laying our table, enquires whether Gwynne and I will be sharing our next courses “as well”. She’s noticed and is taking it into account.

Fortunato Mazzone in his element. (Photo: Supplied)

I would say Forti and his father’s secret has always been that fanaticism about using and sourcing the very, very best ingredients, sustainable stuff, the most delicious, no matter the cost. That comes from always having made everything from scratch. It’s a part of the high expectations with which Gwynne and I have come to eat here, as his Pretoria and other guests do, as my mother and her food friends did. It’s unerring.

Forti takes great interest in what Gwynne has ordered. “A good chip is a wonderful thing,” he almost purrs, glancing at the crisply golden pile on her calamari and chorizo dish. 

‘A good chip is a wonderful thing,’ Forti almost purrs. (Photo: Gwynne Conlyn)

“It’s nice to drag those chips through the sauce, the reduced cooking liquids,” he advises.

He breaks off as three people in black wander through the restaurant space. “There’s the woman who danced naked in my restaurant.”

Looking at this man with the business and food and art brain, as well as the ever-changing, gloriously coloured spec frames, I wonder if Forti still does impromptu opera singing as at Ritrovo. He did an opera course at Wits with the late Joyce Barker. Apart from learning about life and food from his father, Forti has put to the test what Giovanni told him about education, that “it provides the opportunity to think laterally”.

It’s something poignant because Giovanni, for all his charm and talent, had the equivalent of Standard 8 from a small school in the Campania countryside. Forti, on the other hand, has a slew of degrees and qualifications from South Africa.

He also delights in the fact that his father left him his Jaguar F-type sports car. Since Gwynne and I learned earlier that Uber vehicles are not welcome at the Pretoria station, Forti insists on driving us there after lunch. Down in the parking lot, he discovers something he’s never noticed about his dad’s Jag. It doesn’t have a back seat of any description. Gwynne sits on my lap and we head off giggling like naughty school kids, crammed into the low car, to the city centre. 

One of Forti’s university majors was English literature and he’s amused that, since Douglas Adams randomly thought of the number 42, geeks have been trying to work out its significance and making assumptions about its role in the world. However, Forti knows that the first time Adams used that number was in a comedy called The Hole in the Wall Club, when Rhys Jones the comedian mentions a “42nd meeting of the Crawley and District Paranoid Society”. DM/TGIFood

Forti Too, Lynnwood Bridge Shopping Centre, Lynnwood Manor. Call 071 996 1708

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  • We started eating at Giovanni’s Sunnyside as “children” barely out of varsity and spent many a lazy afternoon at Ritrovo and have recently been indulging in the Chateaubriand at the casino. Can’t wait to try this one.

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