Paolo Gavioli, Ian Fernández and Roberto Vicario first came to Sri Lanka a decade ago and watched the country transform as they returned over the years, spellbound by the island and its many diverse charms.
Of these charms the Galle Fort captured their imagination the most – wandering through its cobbled streets they were strongly reminded of small Italian villages or ‘borghi’ back home, where classic architecture sets the stage for incredible Italian cuisine.
Inspired, the trio opened their first Sri Lankan venture in May – AQUA Forte is serving up authentic Italian food paired with the finest of wines from Galle Fort’s residential Leyn Baan Street.
In July the restaurant was honoured to serve the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his wife Professor Maithree Wickremesinghe. The reception was also attended by Mr and Mrs Mohan Selvaraj, the Deputy Ambassador of Italy Allegra Baistrocchi, Hon. Ramesh Pathirana, Deepal Wickremasinghe, Raveen Wickremasinghe, Gratiaen Prize 2018 winner Arun Welandawe Prematilleke, Niranka Perera, Mr. and Mrs. Nilanga De Alwis and Mr. and Mrs. Suresh Perera.
They were hosted by Paolo, Ian and Roberto within the restaurant’s spacious dining area with seating capacity for 60, including a separate dining room on the upper floor that can accommodate 25 seats.
The VVIP guests dined on a personalized four-course menu created by Chef Roberto Vicario, the restaurant’s Executive Chef and Managing Director. Chef Roberto brings a background in science to his passion for cooking, experimenting with traditional recipes and creating modern dishes prepared using classic Italian cooking techniques with respect for the freshest of produce.
A reading of the menu at AQUA Forte reminds guests that everything is handmade on site and to order. Even the bread at AQUA Forte is baked daily, including classics like crispy olive studded focaccia. The pasta is rolled fresh -also daily- for classic tagliatelle and deliciously unctuous ravioli or tortellini. All ingredients are sourced fresh when available locally or flown in from Italy.
Guests may begin their dining experience with refined antipasti selections such as Carpaccio di Zucchine (zucchini carpaccio with truffle oil, pistachio crumble and ricotta cheese mousse) or Baccala Mantecato alla Veneziana (Venetian style cod with extra virgin olive oil on grilled polenta). The classic notes of Italian cuisine ring true in the pasta (‘Primi’) section, paired with the finest quality premium ingredients – Ravioli alla Norma (ravioli stuffed with eggplants, ricotta and pecorino cheese with fresh cherry tomato sauce) and Tagliatelle al Ragu di Coniglio (tagliatelle with rabbit ragu), for example.
Guests can eschew the traditional carbs in favour of main courses like Polpo alla Barese (octopus sous vide with smoked potato puree, parsley powder and dry black olives) or Porchetta e Peperoni (rolled pork belly with herbs served with roast bell pepper salad and crispy crackling). For ‘dolci’ (dessert) go classic – tiramisu, panna cotta, Trio di Cioccolato e ricotta, and a fun selection of gelatos and sorbets await. Each dish could be paired with wine from AQUA Forte’s impressive wine cellar housing a curated collection of exclusive labels from Italy’s diverse wine regions. Guests will be appreciative of the restaurant’s commitment to ensuring that they can pair each course or dish with the perfect wine- the large selection including the premium labels can be ordered by the glass or bottle. Non-alcoholic options include premium Italian waters, soft drinks, a selection of freshly pressed fruit juices, and Illy coffee.
The restaurant’s ambience (designed by Team Architrave led by Principal Architect Madhura Prematilleke) is perfect for intimate, sophisticated meals to match the Galle Fort’s own charm of timeless elegance. The dress code remains casual- so guests can take a long wander through the fort’s many pathways before making their way to the restaurant. “Our guests are here to experience a real Italian dining experience and that means they should be relaxed and comfortable. We strongly believe in this philosophy when it comes to the food we serve as well.
After all, Italian cuisine is so charming because it can be both sophisticated and hearty at once”, says Chef Roberto. Ian added: “We built this restaurant to blend effortlessly into the Galle Fort as if it has been here forever- and we think this sets the perfect stage for the real stars here; authentic Italian food and wine created and served in one of the most beautiful locations on earth”.
They also thanked their partners, saying “We’re very lucky to have had excellent support locally from our Attorney at Law and Public Notary Nilanga De Alwis, Suresh Perera of Sithagi Design and Engineering and Antyra Solutions , our integrated agency partners for brand design and digital marketing.”
The three friends are so charmed by Sri Lanka that they’re investing further- a small luxury boutique villa called AQUA Villa with annex restaurant AQUA Pazza will open in Midigama later this year. They are convinced that Sri Lanka will bounce back stronger than ever from recent events; saying “Sri Lanka is so beautiful, we’ll always return and know others will too.”