Made in Chelsea Abruzzo: Terra Vergine
[The] King’s Road in London’s ever-so-trendy-area of Chelsea: Charles II used it as a private road in order to travel to Kew, Thomas Arne composed “Rule Britannia” on it, and Caggie, Ollie, Millie and Spencer are, well, made in it. It’s not only a stone’s throw from the greatest football team in the world, but also plays host to a one-of-a-kind restaurant, Terra Vergine.
Terra Vergine claims to be the only restaurant in the UK serving up Abruzzese cuisine. As General Manager, Matteo Congedo (himself from Abruzzo) explained, the largely unknown region in central Italy facing the Adriatic Sea has a unique style, crafted from the varied landscape. The region is split between interior mountain ranges and coastal Mediterranean climates, offering a unique environment that caters for both rainy-hill dwellers and sun-worshiping beach bums; a mix that is clearly reflected in the varied menu we would be dining on this evening.
With my rambunctious dining partner @croxocube seated comfortably for the evening, we were welcomed to the restaurant with a prosecco aperitif – a great way to begin proceedings.
The first course served up was quite a mouthful: Pallotte Cac‘e’ove servite con salsa di pomodoro e scaglie di caciotta al tartufo nero. To those of us not accustomed to the Italian tongue, classic Abruzzi cow cheese balls were served with tomato sauce and sliced black truffle caciotta. One of the star dishes on the menu – so good in fact, we enjoyed a second helping. I could have quite easily enjoyed even more of these hot and gooey little parcels of joy if it weren’t for another four courses still to come our way. The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo – Zaccagnini was a crisp rose that was bright pink-salmon in colour with hints of cherry. All the wine this evening, as you would expect, came from the Abruzzo region.
Sagne e Ceci accompanied by a large pile of bread was the second course brought to the table by general manager Matteo. Sagne pasta, made on site that morning with water, flour and salt was served alongside chickpeas, and doused in a spicy garlic and herb broth. The simplicity of the dish is a nod to the frugality of the Abruzzese working class. The dish was extremely light but provided substance with the help of the generous helping of bread on the side. The fresh white wine was again a Ciccio Zaccagnini, but this time a “Bianco di Ciccio” – a lighter version than the Pecorino Yamada.
With a decidedly vegetarian start to our Abruzzo experience our Abruzzese hosts turned their attention to the fish course. Sliced tuna steak with radicchio served with balsamic glaze from Modena, a province further North of Abruzzo in the Emilia-Romagna region. The tuna steak was beautifully pink in the middle, having been cooked ever so quickly on each side – just how it should be. The tuna was served on a bed of sweet radicchio, or ‘Italian chicory’. The strong flavours of this course required a strong red to accompany it.
Rosso Del Tralcetto, Ciccio Zaccagnini was deep in colour with aromas of plum and ripe blackberry. The bottle comes with a “Tralcetto”, or grape vine wrapped around the bottle – a nice nod to the origins of the wine.
With the fish course devoured, it was time for the meat. Brought out in steaming-hot terracotta pots, the last savoury dish for the evening was synonymous with the Abruzzo region – Arrosticini. Castrated sheep’s meat (mutton) is cut into chunks before being pushed onto skewers intermediately broken up with ovine fat. The ensuing cooking process takes place over a long period of time, resulting in juicy and tender meat. Only the finest cuts of mutton are used for the Arrosticini, to achieve the glorious tenderness. Keeping with tradition, the meat was ripped from the skewers with our teeth. Perhaps not the most graceful of techniques, but fun all the same. I love my red wine and so with our final pairing of the evening came my favourite – Montepulciano Riserva “San Clemente”, Ciccio Zaccagnini. The red was intensely fruity with hints of blackberries, currants and blueberries. The 18-month ageing process in oak barrels really shines through on the quality of this wine.
The final stop on our discovery into the Abruzzo cuisine took us to dessert. ‘Crepes di nova italiane con salsa di arance fresche e Grand Marnier’ translated into Italian egg crepe served with fresh orange and Grand Marnier sauce. The matching drink also took on a sweeter tone, with a glass of Plaisir “bianco” Zaccagnini being served. With a golden yellow colour you are presented with flavours of honey and tropical fruit, a great partner in crime to the intensely orange Italian crepe.
So, the new kid on the block may not have been made in Chelsea, but you can be assured when visiting Terra Vergine they are very proud of the fact they were made in Abruzzo.
442 Kings Road, London, SW10 0LQ