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Chow Bella!

Part of the Il Forno team (L to R), new manager Edward Carminati, and Maddalena and Giovanna Morandi. Photograph: Miranda Glasser

Foodie fans of Temple Town favourite, Il Forno, may have been alarmed recently to see the Italian restaurant closed, but after a speedy refurbishment the eatery has opened its doors once again, introducing a new menu and a new manager, Edward Carminati.

Keeping it in the family, sisters Maddalena and Giovanna Morandi run the restaurant together with Maddi’s husband Manfredi de Lucia.

“We just did a restyle,” explains Maddi, gesturing to the exposed brick walls. “We recleaned all the bricks, built the wall behind. Mainly our changes are that we changed the manager – Edward was our manager in Fiji for two years, then he was in Italy – and also we are doing a different menu. Now we have about 10 new plates.”

“We are keeping the classical dishes,” adds Giovanna, “The favourite dishes like all the pasta, the pizza that people like. But we are taking away the heavy regional stuff that was from the mountains, and producing some general Italian food and specials.”

Because Il Forno attracts so many regulars, the team was keen, as Maddi puts it, “To keep our expectations on your plate.”

A quaint rustic look gives Il Forno added appeal. Photograph: Miranda Glasser/Phnom Penh Post

A dish to die for – tuna carpaccio marinated in citrus, olive oil and parsley. Photograph supplied

This pork belly dish is sure to set the tummy rumbling. Photograph supplied

Seventy per cent of the menu will remain the same, but the new additions will have a lighter, fresher feel.

A taste of the new menu confirms this, with a tuna carpaccio marinated in citrus, olive oil and parsley setting my taste-buds on fire.

New mains include a twist on scaloppini. This dish is traditionally made with veal, but the Il Forno variant, a chicken escalope with porcini mushrooms and a mashed potato, is out of this world.

The talented chef, Sopheak, informs me it contains butter, parmesan and the delicious ingredient I couldn’t quite place – nutmeg.

There will also be some new signature dishes, the first of which, a dessert, I naturally had to try, purely in the name of research and can attest to its scrumptiousness.

“The signature dessert is a dessert that I wanted to have for a long time and that we tried at the hotel, which is the chocolate heart,” Maddi says.

“This is a little chocolate cake, and inside there is a whole cube of dark chocolate. When you bake it,  the small cake bakes around it and all the inside melts. So when you open it... .” She trails off, beaming.

I certainly get the picture.

Giovanna adds, “Also our other chef Bum Thoeun has made some very nice black ink gnocchi, squid ink gnocchi with sea bass and saffron sauce and rosemary.”

“So delicate,” says Edward, “because the saffron really brings out the flavours.”

The team is not one to rest on its laurels – while running the Navutu Stars Resort in Fiji, the team changed the menu daily so guests would not get bored of the same dishes.

Edward says, “Variety spices everything up. It’s the spice of life really, not always relying on the same. The menu is going to stay more or less fixed, but the specials are changing every two or three days to show the difference and introduce new things.”

Maddi agrees, saying, “For us Il Forno has been very successful from day one and we didn’t want it to become static. We come from a very dynamic, sort-of-change-every-time approach.”  

The owners endeavor to source as many ingredients locally as possible. Scallops and most of the fish are sent twice a week from Sihanoukville, with sashimi-grade tuna imported from Thailand, along with the cheeses.

Chef Sopheak has been with Il Forno since its opening in 2010, and now runs both the kitchen there and at Navutu Dreams Resort, the team’s other Siem Reap venture. Having gone from being taught how to make pizza in Giovanna’s kitchen, he has developed his own style, even taking inspiration from some of Britain’s celebrity chefs.

Giovanna says, “Sopheak has really grown in the last two years and has come up with brilliant ideas."

“He is a very particular chef,” adds Maddi, “Because he’s really eager to make dishes his own. So everything that he does, he does with a variation. A lot of time we go and we find him with the open laptop studying three or four Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver recipes.”

Edward says, “He is good because he’s got to knowledge to both make the eye happy and the taste. Not only does the plate look beautiful but it tastes good.  He is very dedicated, passionate.”

It is hard to believe the site of this popular restaurant was a little used dirt lane a mere two years ago. “When we came here there wasn’t anything, we paved the lane,” says Maddie.

Having gone from one small room seating twenty people, Il Forno, which has just won a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence, looks set to grow and grow, with plans to install air-con and a private room upstairs.

I, for one, say long may it continue.



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