442 Kings Road
London SW10 0LQ
Tel: 020 7352 0491
Walking into the swish Chelsea restaurant Terra Vergine is like stepping into Abruzzo. All you can see comes from there, the chairs, wine, food, staff, even the rather splendid lampshades are imported. This homage to that little known area of Italy is honest and dedicated. I would go so far as to say a love affair. Abruzzo is considered southern Italy and is located around the upper calf if you imagine Italy as a boot. Originally a poor area divided by the Apennine mountain range it has in recent years prospered. Montepulciano is the famous grape of this region. It’s the growth in popularity and tourism that have finally put Abruzzo on the map and as we discovered the food deserves to be there as well.
The menu or ghiotto: “one who likes to eat well” as it’s called here is full of tempting morsels. We thought for some time and decided to go for the incredibly good value ‘Il Menu Dell’Artista’: The real Abruuzo Experience. A seven course food menu for £45 or with matched wines from Abruzzo naturally £65.50. We had one of each. The first dish was an interesting cow’s milk cheese balls deep fried sitting on spicy tomato sauce and sliced black truffle caciotta. It had a beautiful subtlety that was to become a signature for the evening. The spicy sauce was really very mild, I did find it hard to detect any presence of truffle but I enjoyed it. Next up a ring shaped pasta that came with mushrooms, courgettes, fresh ricotta cheese and tomato sauce had the bite I like in pasta, which is hard to pull off when it freshly made. Everything had its place with this dish. All flavours were distinguishable.
I was told by Matteo who looked after us and also happens to be the manager that although they had only been open six months they have started to make a name for themselves. Earlier in the day the Chelsea football club management had called in for a long lunch. It wasn’t their first visit to Terra Vergine.
A returning football club is one thing but when Matteo returned with our next offering I was delighted. A large plate of medium cooked fresh tuna steak sitting on radiccio with balsamic glaze. This was beautiful, fresh fish and excellent acidity from the glaze made this a complete pleasure to eat. The wines I had became stronger in flavour and depth as each course progressed. This is a well thought through package, which just allows you to relax as all the work is done for you.
We had a gap and had a chance to take in the surroundings. A calm mushroom and light brown interior with a stairs down to another seating area easily made private and closer to the kitchen. Being an Italian restaurant it’s firmly in the family friendly category.
So next was a slap to the face of our senses with a superb (not too cold) lemon sorbet, really smooth and bursting with zing. Our tongues positively tingling we received skewers of lamb grilled with a device specially made to rotate the meat evenly. These came in a rustic jug the end poking out tempting you to pluck one. The only accompaniments were some dry toast and a glass of Montepulciano “Maria Cuetic” Masciarelli 2008. This worked beautifully with the meat. Matteo insisted that you use fingers for this an Abruzzo tradition so we did. There is a lot of tradition here in what I was rapidly thinking of renaming little Italy: Arbruzzo branch. It’s quite charming to be part of a way of life as described by the food eaten from a different corner of the world. I was being seduced just by being here, it’s so relaxed but smart, the food is of a high caliber but at the same time casual.
So we were on the home run now. A slice of apple pie with cream provided the first sweet and was quickly followed by crepes made with Italian eggs (guess whereabouts in Italy they came from!) fresh orange juice and Grand Marnier sauce. Another punch to taste buds as this boozy fabrication slipped down. Italian pancakes it’s worth noting are thicker than their French counterparts. A more substantial dish is the result.
The gentle flavours that abound at Terra Vergine should be enough to attract you, the chic feel of the design another lure. All the food is imported from Abruzzo so authenticity is guaranteed. But it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The lightshades that hang over each table are converted copper jugs used to collect water in the old country and are known as dancing ladies as the two handles look like arms, a quirky playful addition to the look. If team Terra Vergine were in the premier league it would not be at the top yet but like all newcomers it has a chance and given time might just get further up the table. Chelsea and some of the other players might just have to watch their back.