December 6 2021

New Pig Guide review: La Terra, John Street

The Firehouse Rotisserie was a Bath institution that offered no good reason not to live on John Street forever. What’s not to like about a bright, cheerful modern bistro specialising in bright, cheerful modern menus on a classic Californian theme including pizzas that, when the FR first opened its doors almost 30 years ago, offered a revelatory experience to a generation raised on Findus’ evil french bread variant? But a couple of months ago, a Tweet that I blithely assumed would never be posted appeared on my timeline, from FR owner Richard Fenton: “The Firehouse Rotisserie will close on October the 23rd. We’ve had a great run for 25 years, thank you for your support and kindness. Love, Richard X”. And that was that; the Firehouse had gone forever.

Scroll forward just a handful of weeks, and my FR mourning period is suddenly interrupted by another collection of memories that, for me, go back almost as far as my steadfast go-to FR order of crayfish salad followed by Texas spice-rubbed rotisserie chicken with jalapeño coleslaw, hickory barbecue sauce and a Caesar salad side does.

The news suddenly hit that legendary sommelier/wine expert/consultant Vito Scaduto (also former Restaurant Manager/Deputy General Manager at the Bath Priory Hotel) had magpied into the vacant space that the FR had left behind. Vito! I first met him when I was a fledgling restaurant critic for Bristol’s Venue magazine decades ago, before I knew my Barolo from my Barbaresco and thought that Prosecco was the Italian word for ‘posh’. I visited the Bath Priory for one of my very earliest restaurant reviews for Venue, Vito waved his magic mentoring wand over my befuddled head, and my bosses decided to keep me in my job “for another six weeks” (hah!).

Vito has guided me through many menus for many a long year since, as he undertook a leading light role at Bradford on Avon’s Three Gables before becoming a front of house superstar at Clayton’s Kitchen. And in December 2021, here’s Vito and I again, greeting each other like the old friends we’ve become, this time with me being all confident’n’grownup’n’stuff, and him… OWNING HIS OWN RESTAURANT! If that’s not good cause for a celebratory glass of Italian fizz, I don’t know what is.

But personal history aside, there’s much to raise a glass to at La Terra. Sparkly and inviting from the street and even more sparkly and inviting within, the restaurant oozes confidence, competence, class and glamour from the off, with artfully understated bling apparent in every detail from the chic décor to shiny glassware on the shiny tables. There’s a spiffing view all the way through to the big shiny open kitchen towards the rear of the street level dining room, where a brigade of chefs led by head chef Alex turn a bright, shiny spotlight on superb Italian produce – and that produce made its presence felt the moment we took to our table; who doesn’t swoon when hit by the uniquely aromatic scent of truffle? Bring that menu on

Per Iniziare, Primi, Secondi… when in Rome one is obliged to eat like an Italian, isn’t one? And so our voyage began, with openers of fruity, buttery taleggio wrapped in smoky, elastic, velvety speck and the freshest burrata I’ve ever encountered; think, the Italian version of savoury clotted cream complete with soft, forgiving ‘crust’ holding all the creamy goodness into a tight, glossy dome, accompanied by a rich fig puree and sweet, toasty pine nuts. Should I ever be in need of a speedy blast of la dolce vita to give an erstwhile dull day a Romanesque uplift, these two dishes alone (accompanied by a glass of something splendid, of course) are top of my ‘Uplift’ hit list…

…but as we’ve established, they were just per iniziare, and those truffles that had already made their presence felt were on their way to our table in white oil format, drenched over a perfectly al dente butternut squash risotto with sage, parmesan and pistachios doing the flavour-kick equivalent of dotting i’s and crossing t’s in all the right places. We shared a dish of traditional Roman gnocchi too (a featherlight version of a familiar comfort food classic made with semolina instead of potatoes) that came with a broad bean puree and wild mushrooms, with lesser-spotted sweet/savoury, salty/rich Guanciale lifting an already heavenly dish to stellar heights.

Secondi? Certamente! Having put the Faraona (a very promising-looking combination of breast and wing of guinea fowl with roasted squash, sweetcorn and brandy sauce) on the ‘for when we return’ list, we opted for Agnello: soft, pink rack of Wiltshire lamb with grilled polenta, roast carrot and a very proper port sauce that tasted as good as it looked (La Terra presentation, by the way, is super, super-pretty) and left us both… well, lost for any further superlatives than that.

Stunned (and replete) as we were, it was time for Dolci. And so it came to pass that we shared a vanilla Panna cotta with pear compote and amaretti crumble, and pretended to share a second dessert of Zabaione that Mr Pig didn’t get much of a look-in on as I couldn’t get enough of the classic Italian eggnog mousse (think, a thicker-set eggnog milkshake) with blueberries and hazelnut praline putting a grown up spin on my childish perceptions.

Every aspect of La Terra, from service to food by way of presentation and overall vibe, skilfully defines the point where classic, traditional Italian cuisine meets contemporary expectations. It isn’t just a good restaurant – it’s a molto, molto bene ristorante, suitable for all occasions… or simply just a simple-but-superb lunch. In summary, Bath’s newest restaurant is waiting for you to visit and make fresh memories. Saluti, Vito! Here’s to new beginnings; ritrovarsi non è mai stato così buono.

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