The menu starts with a comprehensive list of tapas and starters – be sure to try the grilled sardines with pine nuts and raisins with a little vinegar dressing or the octopus, chorizo and cauliflower dish, which is totally delicious and with a sauce begging to be mopped up with some great bread. Other starter dishes include chicken thighs in Moroccan harissa; a selection of utterly delicious croquetas (in flavours like mushroom, chorizo and spinach) presented in a folded paper cone; lamb arrosticini (tiny lamb kebabs with an anchovy sauce).
Of course there is also a selection of pastas, risottos, raviolis, pizzas and items from the Josper grill, and there is a very popular goat’s stew cooked in a carolo sauce, served with polenta and peppers. For dessert try the cannoli Siciliani with pistachio ice cream; torta al limone or baked Napoletana ricotta cheesecake.
The cocktail list features some very creative cocktails such as the #42 (with Hendrick’s gin, raspberry jam, fresh lemon and earl grey, finished with prosecco), or the Fumo with Finlandia, Grand Marnier, cinnamon syrup and cranberry juice. The wine list kicks off with two and a half pages of champagne followed by some prosecco and MCC’s, and goes on to list some interesting wines.
Toni Signorelli is the front-of-house manager and will see that you are made to feel welcome, while the waiters and waitresses are well-trained, friendly, knowledgeable, helpful and also smartly dressed in black with bright white branded Laurent Perrier aprons.
The restaurant has recently had a total make-over that reorganised the kitchen and bar, opened them both up and improved flow considerably – gone is all the wood and stuffiness. The outside area and smoking section are much more casual with lounge furniture between a few tables.
Fumo appears to attract a lovely mix of clientele from the public, corporate and local worlds, keen to experience good Italian cuisine.
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Owner/chef Claudio Uccello believes Italian food is all about buying the best ingredients available, and then treating them as simply as possible. He is a hands-on guy who tells a story of a food blog he follows and contributes to, where Italian chefs share their passion for food and where the simplest question - for example how to best coddle an egg - can result in an exchange of epic proportions, in true Italian style.
A visit is a treat from start to finish. The bread sticks (grissini) are made with good quality parmesan, while other homemade breads (pumpkin or olives) at the start of the meal should be an indication of what to expect. The tapas menu takes snacking to the next level: grilled sardines with pine nuts, raisins and white vinegar; meat balls in tomato sauce; deep fried mozzarella di bufala; sautéed chorizo with peas and onion; baby octopus with cocktail tomatoes, garlic and white wine; chorizo and spinach croquettes; Arancini balls stuffed with porcini mushrooms and smoked mozzarella, or a plate of Gammon Bellota with a fresh fennel and rocket salad and pickled chillies.
Claudio probably makes the best nettle risotto in the country and is able to explain why nettles from some areas are so much better than others. Their risotto is made more unctuous through the addition of Tallegio cheese and the end result manages to strike just the right balance of soupiness and bite, elegantly presented and garnished with a thin, crisp parmesan wafer. This was followed by an asparagus ravioli, a pear and ricotta ravioli in beetroot pasta with gorgonzola sauce, both offset by a little mound of grilled sliced aubergine – utter perfection. While they often have specials such as seabass or sea bream imported from Italy, the a la carte menu lists a number of starters from the sea. Think of Manucce di Calamaretti - fried baby squid with baby marrow and brinjal; Mussels Guazzetto - peppers and fennel in a fresh tomato and chilli sauce, or the deluxe pan-fried duck liver and Venetian scallops with cauliflower and beetroot purée. Main course options include Sagne a Pezze al Ragu (broken lasagne); Vongole e Broccoli (home-made black ink pasta with clams and broccoli) or an Italian fish stew with Napoletana sauce, white wine, garlic, chilli, fresh herbs and toasted bread, to name but a few. For desserts try the passionfruit crème brûlée; Limoncello panna cotta with fresh strawberries or Tiramisu tower with liquorice ice cream.
The wine list is carefully considered and includes some delightful imported wines such as Italian Pinot Grigio, but it is heartening to see that local wines are also given their due.
The staff at Fumo are extremely well-trained, personable and professional. One of the outstanding features here is that there is always a person on duty at the reception desk, something so few Pretoria restaurants deem necessary. Few restaurants these days employ a maître’d, and it is such a pleasure to dine here and be attended by a professional who understands the subtleties of fine dining.
The space has changed hands since it was initially fitted out as a restaurant, resulting in a restaurant that is slightly quirky and probably has a stronger New York influence than the average restaurant in Italy would have – perhaps due to the sepia-toned prints lining the walls. The space is generous; exposed metal beams in gun metal grey and large black-and-white chequerboard tiles set the tone. There is a large bar counter to the left of the entrance, a wine cellar, an outside area, a separate section where the pizza oven is housed, and a number of alcoves. When booking, ask for a table in the little bay alcove with doors that slide open to let the outside in.
On Sundays they have a live jazz band to set the scene for a relaxed afternoon of good food and music
Diane de Beer
Blue-blood Italian chef Claudio Uccello has recently taken over the establishment having worked in the kitchen from the start; it will be interesting to see what route he follows. The food is authentic, slanted towards the South of Italy. Claudio is young, adventurous and keen to create his own brand of Italy. If you want to start with salad, opt for their radicchio salad with chicken, black olives, pine nuts, pecorino cheese and an orange dressing. Alternatively, consider ordering the fennel and fresh tuna salad with anchovies and white balsamic. Or opt for the finger-licking calamari squid, served in a funky paper cone, and then turn serious with some succulent pan-fried duck breast with spinach and an unusual Marsala wine sauce and sesame seeds. This is imaginative Italian fine dining.
Their clientele demands a serious list, so expect all the hot vineyards as well as a serious collection of grappa.
Staff are clear-headed and fast on their feet, which is good because this is a busy corner of town.
There’s a contemporary feel about this space, which was at first designed as a smart American diner. It's a large room, with one area covered in the classic white and black checkered tiles and smart tables with crisp white linen tablecloths. Another space offers large armchairs for a quiet chat away from the table. The décor seems to go down well with the young, funky and professional crowd it serves.
If you like to people-watch, you could see the odd business deal go down here. In this governmental and diplomatic city, it's fun to watch the players at work.
Very disappointing food and wine at this Italian eatery. 45 minutes after ordering I was told that my meal was not fit to serve and was offered an alternative which was mediocre. It is hard to serve bad red wine in South Africa but they succeeded in doing so. The salad was oily and totally overdressed. To top it all off, I waited 45 minutes extra for the taxi...wow
The food is a dream, an Italian dream! The Italian chef is as good in the kitchen than with clients, and his lovely beautiful, French wife is as pro as her husband. You have to go there!