Terra Rossa, Islington: restaurant review

The homely cuisine of Puglia is given time to shine at Terra Rossa – an Italian red-sauce joint that adds rustic charm to Upper Street's growing arsenal of worthy restaurants

What's the draw:

Located a dangerous-to-this-writer's-wallet distance from a Le Creuset shop on Upper Street, Terra Rossa is an Italian restaurant intent on delivering a taste of Puglia to Islington's bistro-hardened battalion of yummy mummies. Holding its roots in Italy's heel, Puglian cuisine takes inspiration from the traditional cucina povera (or "poor kitchen") style of cooking, transforming humble ingredients into dishes greater than the sum of their parts. Terra Rossa keeps that custom alive but brings with it a stiletto-sharp service you won't get eating at your nonna's.

What to drink:

Terra Rossa's lengthy wine list encompasses many fine bottles from both Puglia and other regions dotted across Italy's verdant vino landscape. In contrast to that almost overwhelming selection, there were but two Italian beers on tap. We ordered a pair of those frosty pints for our midweek meal. Taranta, a top-fermented amber beer, was welcomed with open arms. Intriguingly spiced with local peppers, the beverage was both familiar and foreign: a Doom Bar that's returned from its year abroad in Italy fluent in the language with its arms wrapped around a real bella donna. The Agricola, on the other hand, was a sweet and malty light lager with a body as round and pleasant as Mr Blobby. Both beers paired excellently with pizza and pasta.

What to eat:

You'd be remiss not to start with the parmigiana. Thinly sliced and fried aubergines are layered with tomato sauce and mozzarella before being baked in the oven till they reach melted mozza perfection. It's a dish that often becomes a homogenous mush in the wrong hands but, in Terra Rossa's trusty rustic mitts, each layer is able to be forked apart with ease, packing ample amounts of smoky auby flavour. Fave e cicoria also shines; the bean purée comes decked out with a tumbleweed of wild chicory and has more in common with pillowy garlic mashed potatoes than it does with dense and grainy supermarket beans.

Pasta and pizza are the ticket when it comes to your mains selection and we're confident in saying that the paccheri al ragu di mare is the restaurant's undeniable hero dish. Sweet minced octopus ragu, seasoned well with black pepper, parsley and an array of Italian herbs, coats toothsome tubes of paccheri like a suit of armour. Or a really nice suede jacket. Pizza-wise, the Bologna (mozzarella, smoked scamorza, pistachio, parmesan, and mortadella) hits the spot, too. If you've got room for dessert – and God knows, we always do – the tiramisu's homemade mascarpone and coffee-soaked savoiardi biscuits fulfil pretty much every criterion of "tasty".

Plates of pasta from £12.5, pints of beer from £5.90; 139 Upper Street, N1 1QP;