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Terra Rossa: Meet the man bringing the tastes of his Puglian childhood to London

As a child, François Fracella helped his father on their farm in Puglia, Italy; picking olives, pulling off his shoes and socks and treading the grapes.

He treasures memories of his father coming home, hands covered with the region’s red soil and of his mum cooking bread, pasta and sauces.

Now Francois, together with his business partners Luca, Dario and Domenico, is honouring the traditions of his childhood and running one of London’s most authentic Italian restaurants: Terra Rossa in Islington.

He said: “My father was one of the last farmers to plough the fields with a horse. We grew tomatoes, melons, olives and grapes and I helped from a young age. My mum is a very classic Italian big Mama! She used to make bread dough and someone would come and collect it to cook in a stone-bake oven. We’d have fresh bread for breakfast every day. I never want to forget anything about those days.

“When I was 18, I left home for university and met a lovely English girl – Alison. We lived together for 10 years; she taught me all about English culture!”

But things took a tragic turn as Alison and François were excitedly planning their wedding, which was to be a family-filled event in an Italian castle. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, despite it appearing to go into remission following treatment, the cancer returned. They brought the wedding forward and held it in a small church - Alison died just two days later.

François added: “When she died, everything was different in my life but you have to go on. Alison’s family are my family – I talk to her parents every day and we spend Christmas together."

He went on to marry Elisa, an Italian who grew up in his village. They have a five-year-old daughter, Eleonora Grace who is Terra Rossa’s biggest fan. Elisa, who studied at the Fine Art Academy of Lecce, is a talented painter - responsible the restaurant's beautiful decor.

François recently celebrated 30-years in hospitality, having worked in Apulia in the Barbican.

He added: “It had been my dream to run my own restaurant for a long time. I’d helped find work for many of my friends and colleagues from Italy and four and a half years ago the time was right so we found this place in Islington and many of them they came with me.

“Upper Street feels like the perfect spot. We opened in December 2018 and established a strong business. Being in a residential area, offering deliveries and the government grants helped us to survive the pandemic.

“Our signature dishes are Octopus Ragu, Wild Boar Ragu, Parmigiana and Meatballs. We source many of our ingredients locally; from butcher James Elliott and fishmonger Steve Hatt. We make a lot of the pasta fresh on site and the rest we make in a kitchen in Italy that’s run by my business partner.

“Everything about us is real – many of us were raised in Puglia. We serve wine from my friend’s winery and craft beer from a micro-brewery there and we import amazing cheese. We’re serving up the flavours of my childhood. This place feels very homely.”

Local Buyers Club members save 15% off lunch at Terra Rossa, Monday-Friday (info here). Terra Rossa is due to open a second restaurant in Carter Lane (near St Paul's) in late February 2023.

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