Islamabad, many would agree, isn't really popular for its food culture. Yet, its latest export to Lahore is considered one of the best fine-dining restaurants the city has produced – though ironically it is a brainchild of a duo of brothers from the Punjab capital.
Fuoco has opened its large wooden doors in the heart of Gulberg II off College Road just last week, after having served the people of the capital since August 2021.
The restaurant claims to serve contemporary Italian/European food with a vision to create and offer an exceptional dining experience, as per its Instagram page. In this respect, they're correct: it sure is an experience worth having. More on that later.
The owners of Fuoco, Lahore-based brothers Shahbaz and Shamaz, decided to go to Islamabad for the first outlet as they thought the kind of food they wanted to serve was best suited to the people of the city -- diplomats and the foreigner community in particular. And also because Islamabad was more forgiving than Lahore, as Shamaz put it in an exclusive conversation with Samaa Digital.
Out of the two, Shahbaz looks after the business side and Shamaz is responsible for the food.
Their idea behind the food at Fuoco is to let the ingredients shine. The restaurant, Shamaz says, is not so much about the authenticity of Italian food, but the range of it and how you can modernize that sort of cuisine as well.
"We try to create our own dishes that are not served in any other restaurant and keep evolving," says Shamaz, who does not have a degree in the hospitality industry, but has spent time in several kitchens across Europe in France, Spain and Italy.
We were invited to one of the tastings prior to the launch, and here's what we thought.
Upon entering, you realise the interior gives off very soothing, cool, comforting vibes - as if one's entered a spa - with the whites and shades of brown in play. It just plays with your senses; very organic and extremely minimalistic, with a couple of colours taken and stretched as much as possible.
The use of wood is also quite prominent throughout the restaurant, from the furniture to little pots placed on each table to literally a branch of a tree standing tall behind a glass structure. The dim lighting only adds to the sophisticated and refreshing feel of the place. The generous use of white also makes the space look airy. We, however, wish the instrumental music playing in the background wasn’t as loud as it was.
On to the food, the menu at the tasting was a truncated version of the one they offer after the launch: showcasing some experimental, creative and quirky dishes to exhibit their skill and range. The main menu features some classic and comfort food too, like spaghetti with meatballs, pizza and other hearty Italian dishes.
For starters, we first ordered the Tomato and Goat Cheese Soup, being fans of all things cheese. What we loved about this was the thick saucy consistency of the deep red soup that had a subtle, yet delicious tomato flavour. Combined with the charred cherry tomato, goat cheese, tomato crisps, basil and sweet peas, it makes for a comforting beginning of a meal.
The same was the case with the Cauliflower Soup. A thick, lip-smacking soup poured in a bowl smeared with burnt chilli purée and paired with cheddar croutons, anchovies, candied raisins on the side. Another delightful choice for starters.
The best part about both the soups is they let the main ingredient stand out and the accompaniments only complement the main dish without overpowering it.
Next up was the Duck Confit Salad, which look beautiful to be honest. But interestingly, the central character of the dish was the disappointing bit; instead of a confit (slow-cooked) duck leg, what we got was a pan-seared breast and that too a tad bit pinker and chewier than it was supposed to be. But the assorted greens, pickled onions, candied walnuts, range segments and pomegranate vinaigrette were just too pleasant and were wiped off the plate.
From the small plates, we first ordered the Burrata Pomodoro. Frankly, we personally prefer the shiny, wobbly soft shell version of a burrata from which oozes out a milky mix of cream and cheese when cut through. But that’s just us.
This isn’t to say the one at Fuoco isn’t nice; this one made in-house is basically thick, dense cakes of moist cheese curds, served with marinated cherry tomato, basil aioli and shortcrust tuile – that we felt wasn’t required because it wasn’t crispy at all.
We also tried the cold Tuna Noodles that sounded more fascinating than they turned out to be. In the centre of a black stone plate, was tuna sliced into three thick ‘noodles’ served with pickled daikon, which gave it a kind of sweet and vinegary zest, and a ginger dressing poured over.
The first dish we tried from the main course was the Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli. Now this was again a very vibrant, colourful plate of food with green ravioli, a yellow beurre blanc and the deep red beetroot crisps.
Upon tasting everything together, we found ourselves trying to make sense of the flavour profile, as it really turns out bland despite the strong components in the dish. Interesting, if you try the items individually, you can figure out the taste: the lemony beurre blanc is actually quite nice with a slight tartness. And if we were told that the spinach ravioli is filled with just ricotta, we would have loved it, but this was supposed to have walnut inside too, which we couldn’t get even a hint of. The potato crisps were also a bit tough to bite into; wish they were left off the plate.
Up next was the Potato-Crusted Sea Bass, which turned out to be quite a pleasant experience. A generous, pan-seared fillet of sea bass, roofed with a crust of shiny golden slices of potato placed like fish scales, served with baked beetroot, courgette, and a glistening subtle-flavoured saffron beurre blanc. The best part was the perfectly cooked fish that retained its flavour and the smooth, silky tart sauce accompanying it.
Lastly, the Fruitti Di Mare is a treat for any seafood enthusiast. Mussels, squid, clams, shrimp all served with a mound of el dente linguine pasta with dollops of spicy arrabbiata sauce, it was pure indulgence and a hearty, delightful meal.
To top it off, the cherry on the cake was their cheesecake, which for us was easily one of the best we’ve had in town. Even though a bit denser than the usual, it tasted like heaven. We’re sure to go back for it!
Besides the dishes offered at the tasting, the main menu also includes a variety of pizzas, sandwiches and burgers, steaks, pastas and a whole lot more.
In these times of backbreaking economic hardships, the opening of a fine dining restaurant in Lahore is sure to raise eyebrows. However, owners Shahbaz and Shamaz believe their baby -- that many social media users have called one of the most expensive eateries in Islamabad -- has got what it takes to make inroads in Lahore also despite the market being less forgiving than any other when it comes to food.