This restaurant opened in June 2012, showcasing the food of Abruzzo, a region of Italy east of Rome. As an area that has an Adriatic coastline but is also mountainous, the cuisine from this region is varied, though lamb skewers are one speciality; the savoury crepes called scrippelle are another. The name of the restaurant (“Virgin Earth”) is from a book of the same name by Abruzzo writer Gabriele D'Annunzio, intended to suggest the unpolluted nature of the area. The restaurant owner, as well as its head chef Francesco Puleo, were from Abruzzo.
Starters were priced from £8.50 to £12.75, salads £7.75 to £10.50, pasta dishes £10.50 to £16.50, main courses £15 to £19.50, side dishes £3.50 to £4.50 and desserts £4.95 to £6.95. The wine list featured mostly bottles from the Abruzzo region, along with a selection of other Italian labels. Annoyingly, only a few had their vintages listed.
Farnese Casale Vecchio Vococciola Terre di Chieti was £32.50 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £12, La Giustiniana Vigneti Montessora Gavi di Gavi was £46 for a bottle that retails at £18, and Montepulicano d’Abruzzo Villa Gemma Gianno Masciarelli 2005 was £90 compared to a shop price of £41.
An Abruzzo dish of cow cheese balls with tomato sauce and sliced black truffle was fried but rather soggy, though the tomatoes used had good flavour (12/20). Gratin of aubergines with scamorza cheese and Abruzzo sausage was not the prettiest plate of food but tasted very good, the sausage working well with the carefully cooked aubergine (13/20).
Chitarra pasta (a square spaghetti from Abruzzo) served with wild boar ragout was excellent, the pasta made in the kitchen and cooked precisely, the ragout having plenty of rich flavour (easily 14/20). Anellini (ring shaped pasta) alla pecorora was served with a spiced tomato sauce, courgettes, mushrooms and ricotta cheese. The tomatoes were again good, the pasta a touch too soft (12/20). Lamb skewers used meat from castrated Abruzzi lambs, were tender and had good flavour (13/20).
Tiramisu was prepared in the kitchen rather than being bought-in and was excellent, with good sponge and plenty of coffee flavour (13/20). Crepes were made using Italian eggs and contained orange and Grand Marnier sauce, a classic flavour combination (13/20).
We had a particularly charming Italian waiter, who was efficient, friendly and enthusiastic. The bill came to £68 a head including pre-dinner drinks, more food that we could finish and a nice bottle of wine. A typical cost per person might be around £55. Overall I enjoyed Terra Vergine, with its capable cooking and friendly service. It is nice to see a restaurant promoting a rare (for London) regional cuisine, given the endless generic Italian restaurants that we are used to. I hope they do well.