North-west London’s Finchley Road has never quite made its mind up. On one hand, it’s a sprawling main road of coffee bars, apartment buildings, launderettes and offices and on the other, it flirts with the well-heeled of Hampstead and Swiss Cottage. But what it always has is its bohemian vibe where it’s cool to dress down no matter how deep your pockets.
What it hasn’t had for years is a half-decent Italian eatery that offers authentic Italian fare and value for money, particularly towards the posher end near Swiss Cottage.
Terra Terra, slap bang opposite Finchley Road tube fills that slot very nicely thank you very much with head chef Massimo Miolo recreating recipes from his roots in northern Italy with a few British seasonal variations thrown in.
Set over two floors the main restaurant is topside, a smart modern layout with an open bakery at one assaulting us with the arousing aroma of freshly baked bread and Tuscan oil. Downstairs lies additional seating but is destined to be more of a cocktail wine bar concept with food.
On a wet Thursday night, Terra Terra is doing good business particularly with Miolo’s small sharing plates which seem to be going down a storm. Clearly a genius move.
The menu is small but packed with interesting options. We decide on three small plates to kick off with; cacio e pepe arancini (£6) a Roman classic of pecorino and pepper pasta but converted into delicious fresh and crispy arancini rice balls resting on a creamy cheese sauce, a generous burrata with accompanying tomatoes made zingy with capers, chilli and basil (£11) and super thin beef carpaccio with crispy parmesan (£11). Three sharing plates that proved to be ideal starters paired as they were with a smooth glass of Puglian red. In truth, we were courted with a few tempting alternatives, in particular, the marinated anchovies and grilled peppers (£5) and the tuna Crudo with samphire and lemon (£11).
The main courses arrive triumphantly held aloft by a duo of waiters winding between the tables. My bowl of freshly-made al dente fettuccine with tomato basil and chilli (£10.50) and the missus’ special of the day which turned out to be a beautifully cooked swordfish resting on a bed of tiny pasta squares called fregola (£19). We share a wild rocket salad side dressed with a divine Tuscan oil and 15-year-old balsamic.
We spot our neighbouring table eyeing our delivery enviously, then again, their pea and courgette risotto with crispy artichoke looks none too shabby either so what’s the issue?
More diners come in, perhaps a few commuters arriving at Finchley Road station looking for a quick dinner before strolling home.
Massimo makes an appearance up from the kitchen below and makes the table rounds. A young, clearly talented kitchen wizard, who has previously lorded over the burners at Chelsea Kitchen and Chucs of Mayfair.
He drops back downstairs after sensing my dessert is needed imminently. A vanilla pannacotta with summer berries and amaretti (£6) which doesn’t disappoint. There is something about Italy and pannacotta that just defines a perfect pairing. For me, it is the ultimate Italian dessert.
Terra Terra has all the hallmarks of a classic winner about it; an all-day eatery open for breakfast lunch and dinner, a good-value neighbourhood Italian and well within reach of Hampstead’s hipsters. Finchley Road has never had it so good.
Food images (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Terra Terra Italian Restaurant
Terra Terra, 120 Finchley Rd, London NW3 5JB T: 020 8912 6320
Mon 7.30am – 5pm Tue – Fri 7.30am – 11pm
Saturday 8.30am – 11pm Sunday 8:30am – 5pm