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Flavours that zing in a real deal Italian

IN LONDON in the '60s I played in a band that included a Cockney guitarist. One night, after a gig, he invited us home to meet Ma and Pa and partake of supper. We sat down to feast on sliced pan and the contents of the roasting tin, minus the Sunday roast. "Help yourself," said Pa, genially. We trawled our knives through the dripping and set beef juices, spreading it on the bread. It was delicious.

It's not a million miles from 'bread and scrape' to lard and even less from lard to lardo, an Italian cured-pork product made from the thick layer of fat directly below the skin of a pig, carefully removed and cured in salt and spices. Years ago lardo was treated as poor man's food and widely disdained. It is now considered a delicacy. The finest, called lardo di Colonnata, comes from Tuscany. My pal Ossie and I enjoyed lardo di Colonnata bruschetta last Friday night. It was delicious too. Lardo has a very mild, creamy flavour, akin to good country butter and is by no means greasy. The other bruschetta on offer came with a topping of caper sprouts. These were good too, as was the roulade of pristine buffalo mozzarella and rocket pesto.

Terra Madre is a tiny -- 18 covers -- restaurant on Batchelor's Walk. The clientele comprised mainly couples plus a table of eight women, maybe food bloggers. Terra Madre (it means 'Mother Earth') serves up large helpings of authenticity. The ambience is as Italian as a Vespa scooter or the chaos that will follow the demise of Berlusconi.

I am on the third week of my Italian lessons. I now know my own name and can ask directions, but that's about it. Mario, the proprietor, endured patiently my attempts to procure a brace of pasta dishes. I took the gnocchi with tomato sauce, of which I am inordinately fond if done well, leaving Ossie to the spaghetti with wild asparagus pesto.

Both were sensational -- ramped-up, vibrant, zinging flavours that could have had me up on the table singing Amore or Volare without touching a drop of booze. The pasta was merely gilded with the sauce, not swimming in a bathtub full.

Ossie, by calling, is a wine taster of some repute. He acquired two bottles, a Falanghina and a Primitivo di Manduria, white and red, from the same producer and pronounced both sound but unexciting. All the wines were priced at €20.

"What! No panna cotta? No tiramisu?" By now I was on jesting terms with Mario. I could have murdered something, anything, other than the tiny star-shaped biscuits with their nonsensical splash of accompaniments that masqueraded as dessert. He sensed my disappointment and gave us espressos on the house. Good ones, too.

If you like Dunne & Crescenzi and Taste of Emilia you will also like Terra Madre. If, on the other hand, your taste in Italian food stems from yesteryear's Dame Street you may struggle.

It's fun and authentic, with simple good food. If it's elaborate you're after, you'd be advised to perhaps look elsewhere. But I approve and will be back.