Chef Fortunato Mazzone, affectionately known as Forti, opened his new restaurant Forti’s Grill and Bar in Menlyn’s Time Square earlier this year. Forti is best-known for his Pretoria establishment Ritrovo Ristorante, where he, together with his father Giovanni, kept a steady stream of guests satiated with the Italian classics. At first glance, his new restaurant is very different indeed – the space is modern and cool, with contemporary artworks on the wall, plush furnishings and pops of colour accenting the space throughout. The restaurant has been decked out with all the latest mod-cons, and the kitchen is open for diners to watch the culinary action unfold. A cigar-filled humidor nestles next to the bar, and the Ferrari of meat slicers, the Berkel 1898, takes pride of place in the entrance.

But while the packaging has changed, the heart of the restaurant remains. The Forti’s Grill & Bar team is, as Forti says, “very much like a family”. Forti is warm and welcoming, chatting and catching up with (and occasionally singing opera to) his guests. While there are some new faces back and front of house, many of the smartly-dressed and ever-professional waiters that glide through the space, as well as many of the kitchen team, have been with Forti since Ritrovo Ristorante days.

Cleverly marrying both the old and new, the Forti’s Grill and Bar menu features classics from the Ritrovo days as well as new additions. The menu is divided into beef cuts of the day; hors d’oeuvres; a selection of meat, fish, poultry and duck, homemade pasta, vegan dishes and desserts. The kitchen brigade of 20, with Culinary Olympian Edward Clegg as Head Chef, create the tasty dishes from scratch, with pasta prepared a la minute and cooked to order. For Forti, simplicity is key.

“Half of the meals on my menu are made using only four to five ingredients. Sometimes my food is misunderstood, because in the fine dining environment people expect complicated dishes, whereas I for example enjoy a fantastic piece of grass-fed beef with duck fat roasted potatoes and just a knob of compound butter – for me, that’s a fine-dining experience,” says Forti.

For starters, kidneys are served in a traditional, slightly sweet Marsala sauce, and the classic Caesar salad is prepared beautifully. As one would expect, there’s a wide selection of pastas – the Penne Broccoli, with salty spikes of anchovy, is delicious, and the classic Spaghetti con Ragu is made with four types of meat that are slowly braised down to an unctuous sauce. The steak cut of the day is cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, as is the Crispy pork belly with pickled ginger. The Prawns of my Father dish is an absolute must-have and it’s no wonder the dish has been a menu staple since 1976. Juicy prawns are cooked in the oven with champagne, garlic and butter, and served on an umami-rich helping of Parmesan rice.

To round off the menu, there are classic desserts such as bigne, tarts and brulees, but for something a little different the table dessert is quite special. Dessert elements are plated up directly onto the table (after a wipe-down, obviously), with spirals of sauces, chunks of fudge, chocolate, or sponge, artfully plated onto the table’s surface, creating a fabulously off-the-wall (table?) end to the meal.

The Forti’s Grill and Bar wine list has something for everyone, with everyday drinkers, special occasion bottles and hard-to-find gems in the cellar. After all, Forti is a qualified sommelier, and even has his own range of wines that he’s created together with Saronsberg Wine Esate.

With a winning formula of vibrant setting, delicious cuisine and wine, and warm and welcoming staff, it’s no wonder the restaurant has attracted a steady stream of diners since it first opened – and it looks as though it’ll continue to go from strength to strength!

For more information visit the Forti’s Grill and Bar website.