The Handbook
The Handbook

Terra Terra has set itself a mammoth task. The restaurant is trying to be a number of things all rolled into one – an early morning bakery to perk you up on your rush hour commute; a neighbourhood Italian you can pop into for a family lunch; an evening cocktail haunt complete with all the culinary delights The Boot has to offer. It’s no mean feat.

Found nestled just opposite Finchley Road station, Terra Terra opened last month and the word on la strada is that it’s here to stay. Inside, things are both rustic and sleek: mushroom walls meet black marble tables; earthy hues offset against clean lines. Head Chef Massimo Miolo is careful to avoid any Mediterranean clichés on the menu. There’s none of the elastic-band calamari reminiscent of that ill-judged summer you spent at Thomas Cook Benidorm (or the one you’re still having, if you got the timing wrong…) – they have the classics, but they do them well.

I opted for a pizza – or pizette, if you please. The crisp base was what I dream of being: remarkably thin. The crust was perfectly bubbled and singed. We ate one with generous amounts of nose-tickling fennel sausage, roasted peppers and a drizzle of chilli oil to round things off. It’s good value, too, at £11. Beef carpaccio was thinly sliced and melt in the mouth, paired with rocket and dusted with shards of parmesan. It’s a gorgeous little number, but so was everything else we tried.

Cacio e pepe arancini was golden and crisp outside, stuffed with hot, peppery goodness and cheese that languorously spooled when pulled apart. Casarecce with lamb ragu and pangrattato was seasoned to perfection, rich and salty and laden with tender chunks of lamb.

It’s like being invited round for dinner by your mate, the grown-up one who can actually cook and has just got into his Italian phase. As a matter of fact, this was the mate who I’d bought along with me to check out Terra Terra and he seemed to be pretty on board (full marks there). It’s not Michelin starred dining, but it’s hearty, home-style food in neighbourhood atmosphere.

We opted for a cocktail, all well priced at £8. Head bartender Walter Pintus has shaken, stirred and garnished his way through both The Mandrake and The Ritz, so I had high hopes. It was one of those rare situations where I didn’t find myself ranking the drinks in order of preference – each one makes a compelling argument for itself. I tried the Sicilian Rosita, because I quite fancy myself as a mafia bride. It’s delicious – dry, tart and fiery. The peach Old Fashioned was presented with a lot of enthusiasm – it was the best drink on the menu, according to our waiter – and offered a pleasant twist on the classic.

Considering that we were just 3 miles out from the centre of town, for hearty cooking in this location, value for money at Terra Terra is very good. With a couple of drinks each and a decent selection from across the menu, we don’t tip the scales over £100. That’s called good news. More importantly, we left fed, watered and feeling part of the family.

120 Finchley Road, South Hampstead, NW3 5JB