The Family Series
Part 2: The Art of Eating and Drinking

Lydia Forte
Group Director of Food and Beverage

 

“Luxurious, elegant, but also warm and inviting”: Lydia Forte is evolving the art of eating and drinking well, Forte family style—in London, Rome, Milan and beyond. Food and drink are two of the great avenues to storytelling in our culture. Provenance, preparation, flavours and aromas: they can all, alone or together, convey a sense of place more immediately, and effectively, than almost anything else. They are also at the very root of hospitality: there’s little in the world that’s more welcoming, or that connects you to a setting and the people in it, than being offered a delicious meal prepared with care and talent, in equal measure.

Lydia Forte, Group Director of Food and Beverage, has made exploring the ways eating and drinking can define, enhance, and evolve the Rocco Forte experience her singular pursuit. Take a seat at any Rocco Forte hotel restaurant or bar, and you’ll immediately know where you are: creative cocktails, locally-made honeys and marmalades (and in the case of Balmoral in Edinburgh, salmon smoked in-house), produce from the family’s organic farms at Verdura in Sicily. A mix of comfort foods and light, fresh, healthy offerings—simple and satisfying, based always in exceptional quality of local and seasonal ingredients. 

Forte hospitality is in her DNA, but Lydia’s training took place across some of London’s top restaurants, Mark Hix’s HIX and The Wolseley, under the aegis of then-owner Jeremy King. Her role today comprises all aspects of the Rocco Forte Hotels eating and drinking experience, from concepting to operations to nutrition. She works in tandem with Fulvio Pierangelini, Rocco Forte Hotels' creative director of food, who also oversees the vast gardens at Verdura Resort “He has taught me so much about food,” she has said of the award-winning Roman chef and onetime restaurateur. “Some say he’s like a food whisperer…When you go to his apartment in Rome, he might have just a few vegetables and somehow with what seems like nothing, he’ll conjure up a meal of dreams.” It’s why quality is at the heart of every Rocco Forte Hotels food offering, from the light perfection of the fritto misto at Irene in Florence (served with a side of local sweet-sour honey) to the delicately crusted organic lamb cutlets at Charlie’s at Brown’s Hotel in London.

Right up there with quality, however, is comfort—menus and spaces that welcome guests like a home from home, offering a bit of indulgence and atmosphere that encourages genuine relaxation. It’s the ethos behind Lydia’s newest project, the supper club evenings in the Drawing Room at Brown’s. “I wanted to bring Brown’s to that next level, where the whole ground floor would have this level of energy,” she says. “Here it’s definitely all about comfort: very British food, basically nursery food done really, really well—a seasonal quiche of the day, cream of tomato soup, soft-boiled eggs with caviar soldiers, and some great cocktails from the trolley. Mini martinis, .” Low lighting , a great play list and a handful of board games—Perudo, backgammon—round out the vibe. “It’s got the feel of a members’ club without the membership—the kind of place where even if you don’t feel like ‘going out’, you’ll want to be there.”

For the Carlton, Rocco Forte Hotels' upcoming hotel in Milan’s golden triangle, Lydia is collaborating with Pierangelini and Rocco Forte’s luminary bar consultant, Salvatore Calabrese—“our food & beverage dream team,” she calls them—on several venues: restaurant, a bar space, a conservatory and courtyard, and a large garden. “The whole of the ground floor is for dining and drinking,” she says. “We want it to feel like it’s a bar and restaurant with rooms, a place for locals” as much as out-of-town guests. While the restaurant will lean towards more of an evolved menu — “Italian crudo and fish with a bit of Asian inflection,” she says—the bar space will hew resolutely Milanese, with Pierangelini shaping a menu of regional, easy classics. 

As the company rings in 25 years, Lydia’s work is only getting more exciting. But the vision—food and drink that tells people exactly where there are, and makes them feel good to be there—is always top of mind. Like her father, aunt and siblings, she credits the Forte family upbringing for both the rigour and the ease and with which she maintains that vision. “For us [siblings], having on both sides these Italian grandparents who really cared not just about the food but the hospitality, was a lifelong learning experience,” she says. “Sunday lunch with them was always at least 20 or 25 people, with a kids’ table on the side. It was always delicious, always fully laid up, and my grandmother always in the kitchen, overseeing the food.” She recalls every Christmas as “carols and arancini with tomato sauce”—the simplest and most wholesomely comforting of Italian staples, done to perfection. 

 

 

"Having on both sides these Italian grandparents who really cared not just about the food but the hospitality, was a lifelong learning experience”

 

The vision she has for Rocco Forte bars and restaurants marries the lessons learned in the family with a thoroughly modern take on healthy eating. “In general, it’s clear that people want to be healthier,” she says; all Rocco Forte Hotels menus have vegetarian and gluten-free options, and a myriad of choices, from small or sharing plates to trolleys—“those hybrid spaces, where you can go for anything, when sitting down for a proper meal is perhaps too involved or serious,” which respond to how people live today. 

“And of course, it’s different in every hotel—the authentic DNA of the place will be in each one,” she affirms. The restaurants appeal to locals, and guests “won’t have to leave to know they’re in Milan, or Puglia, or Edinburgh. But also having exactly what you want in the moment, with an ambiance that’s luxurious, elegant, but also warm and inviting.” In every place, a sense of place.