Open Mon 6pm–11pm, Tue–Sat midday–11pm, Sun midday–10.30pm
Ah, the Italians. So stylish and seductive. The charming Matteo (slicked back hair, tall, handsome) was smiling at the door waiting to extol the virtues of Abruzzo, the regional specialties of which we were about to be educated in. The region lies east of Rome in the central part of the ‘boot’ and the restaurant’s name alludes to the ‘virgin land’ that lies between the mountains and the sea. It’s the only Abruzzese restaurant in the UK.
Sitting at the unglamorous end of the King’s Road, this restaurant (like most Italians) knows how to dress. Coming across like a sexy modern hotel design, there are grey-brown wood tables, transparent black curtains and cream banquettes. Upturned concas (water jugs typical of the region) hang over the table as lamps. In the evening it’s certainly a place for grown ups and we spotted two couples who looked to be getting the amore flowing.
Tagliere Nostrano (£18.95 for two) would be antipasti in any other Italian’s book and was as familiar as you might expect – ham, salami and braesola with the addition of Caciotta, a sweet and milky Abruzzo cheese. Alongside was some melted Primo Sale scamorza (similar to mozzarella) with some sauteed mushrooms (£8.75) which was unremarkable. The winner though, was the Pallote Cac’e’ova (£8.50) – cheese balls to you and me – moreishly savoury and accompanied with the kind of tomato sauce that Italians are famous for. A word of warning at this point. If you are eating the Italian way (starter, pasta, main, desert) don’t do what we did, which was snarf all the starters. Leave some room.
Next up a wonderful surprise: Sagne e Ceci (pasta and chickpeas, £11.50), the kind of simple homely dish you’d hope Italian friends might make for you. A salty, garlicky, addictive broth and Matteo’s chosen hangover cure. Other pastas proved less memorable. Sunflower ravioli stuffed with sea bass (£13.95) was remarkable only for the incredibly yellow sunflower shaped parcels (Abbruzese eggs are the reason apparently) but not for the taste. Linguine with crab (£14.95) was ‘clean’ tasting according to my guest Frank, who dusted it off quick smart.
By now our bellies were struggling. Chopped lambs liver (£14.50) was pronounced too well done by the missus, who likes hers a bit softer. Arrosticini (£15) were 10 skewers of castrated lamb cooked over charcoal that came in a jug. I’m ignorant of how chopping their nuts off improves the meat but it was lovely and tender all the same. Wine-wise we tried a Montepulciano from the region which was light and licquoricey and went with everything well. Nobody had room for any kind of dessert, regrettably.
The impeccable service and smart room seduces away some shortcomings in the cooking; the simple dishes are wonderful while those more complicated are less successful. Matteo’s passion for his region is to be applauded though and some judicious choices will reward a curious tongue with some delicious new experiences. Definitely worth a try.