In the kitchen of a restaurant in the north of Rome, chef Luca Grammatico delicately blends nuggets of chicken and courgette with pureed potato.
He then reaches for a fancy bowl, positions the mix inside and uses a shaper to fashion a food tower before garnishing it with courgette sauce. Grammatico’s next task is to create a biscuit, shaped like a bear, for a guest celebrating her birthday.
“Presentation is very important,” he said.
This is not – at least, not yet – a Michelin-starred eatery, but a restaurant called Fiuto, the first in Italy, and purportedly the world, to serve dogs. The birthday diner is Elsa, a one-year-old Labrador who is just about to sit on a fluffy cushion by a table decorated with party hats and a balloon.
Fiuto, an Italian word mostly used to describe an animal’s sense of smell, was opened by Marco Turano and his two business partners in Rome’s Ponte Milvio district just over a week ago. He has, he says, been inundated with bookings for four-legged customers, including a group of nine who came for Halloween.
The idea partly originated from his passion for catering – the 33-year-old previously managed a restaurant in Rome’s Trastevere district – but mostly from his girlfriend Noemi’s passion for dogs. The couple’s Jack Russell, called Nela, was also eating out on the night the Guardian paid a visit.
“Noemi is a huge dog-lover and we thought: why not try to unite our two passions?” Turano said. “We sought advice from professionals, including restaurant owners, vets and those who provide diets for dogs – we didn’t leave anything to chance.”
Fiuto’s carefully curated dog menu includes poké-style bowls with a choice of chicken, meat, fish and veggie for starters followed by a selection of main meals and desserts. The restaurant caters to humans too, with the food prepared in an entirely separate kitchen.
Each dog is given water – mineral, not from the tap – as an aperitivo.
“Only top-of-the-range produce is used. We want to ensure that when a dog eats here they eat just as well as the humans,” said Turano.
Dog ownership in Italy has significantly increased in recent years, spurred in part by the coronavirus pandemic, with Italians spending €2.7bn on dog and cat food products in 2022. However, dogs are their favourite pet, according to a survey this year.
“Italians love dogs, and treat them almost as well as a child, and in some cases even better than their child,” said Turano. “They are considered a member of the family and not just a domestic pet.”
The tables for dogs and their owners in Fiuto are positioned separately from the ones where non-dog owners eat.
The restaurant contains a mirrored booth for dog selfies, where the Halloween guests on Tuesday posed and then competed in a “best costume” photo contest. The winning dog took home a discount on its next meal and a collar. Turano has also scheduled a competition for the dog that most resembles its owner. “Remarkably, there are many dogs who look similar to their owners,” he said.
Elsa, the birthday Labrador, arrives fashionably late. Ettore, another Jack Russell who tends to bark at bigger dogs, is kept at a safe distance by his owner.
Alice Mazzetti, who rescued Elsa from a bin when she was just 10 days old, said she wanted to make her first birthday special. “Elsa is like a daughter,” said Mazzetti. “This restaurant is an ingenious idea. Dogs are such an important part of our lives now and so it’s important to have places like this where we can come and share a cherished moment.”
A couple from Germany, Silvia and Frank, and their two daughters look over from the humans-only section with curiosity. They have visited the Colosseum, Trevi fountain and Vatican during their trip to Rome, and weren’t expecting to come across a restaurant serving dogs. “It’s fun and adventurous,” said Silvia. The family have a dog at home in Berlin, although Frank would hesitate to bring her out to dinner. “It’s maybe a bit too much for me,” he said.
Grammatico, who is also a dog trainer, is there to ensure the canines do not scrap with each other or disturb the human customers. Turano said there has been no animosity so far. “In fact, love has blossomed between some of the dogs,” he added.
Neither have there been any complaints about the service. But what do the dogs think of the food? “None have turned their noses up so far,” said Grammatico.