Lina Stores in Brewer Street is one of Soho’s most loved and respected institutions. Established in 1944 by ‘Lina’ – a woman from Genoa – it is London’s go-to deli for fabulous Italian food. Jamie Oliver has named it his favourite deli; a couple of years ago on TV I watched Nigella Lawson and the great food writer, Anna del Conte, make a visit there.
Over recent years I’ve popped in quite regularly when in London, buying the odd thing. Usually I’m on my way to the theatre so not about to do a major shop, but it’s full to the brim with the most glorious foods and you couldn’t fail to find a few things to tempt you. There’s the fresh pasta they make on the premises; great Parma hams and salamis hanging from the ceiling; huge slabs of Italian cheeses and jars of delights. Of course now it’s full of Christmas things so an ideal place to search for gifts for all your Italian food loving family and friends.
Such has been my love and respect for Lina Stores that I was seriously excited when I noticed earlier this year that they were opening a restaurant. When I mentioned it to my friend Lucia it was decided we simply had to go. It’s taken a while for a variety of reasons, but last night we made it. And I’m so glad we did!
Given that we were eating before going to the theatre and thus had limited time, it was fortunate I arrived early, as I always do. For I had just assumed the restaurant was in Brewer Street on the deli site, especially as I’ve noticed them adding a few tables outside and setting up a bar area to eat inside the deli. But no – the restaurant is at 51 Greek Street. So I made my way from Brewer Street, along Old Compton Street and into Greek Street. Barely 5 minutes.
I had tried to book but they do have a slightly weird and confusing system saying they ‘only take reservations for lunch & early/late dinner’. What that actually means is they don’t take bookings for the early evening/pre-theatre rush – there’s just a walk-in system then. It was busy when I arrived at 6pm but happily there was a table for two downstairs in the basement.
My heart sank a little. How often do basement areas turn out to be rather grim, depressingly lit parts of the restaurant where you feel excluded from the main event. But not at Lina Stores! It was so cosy that I said to Lucia as we were leaving that perhaps it was the nicest place to sit. It was small and a little cramped, but not so cramped you risk knocking elbows with your next-door neighbour. And it was all beautifully decorated in the Lina Stores ‘green’ and white. But best of all – apart from the food! – was the warm Italian welcome. There were plenty of waiters and everyone was so friendly and helpful.
While I was waiting for Lucia I ordered a glass of house white: a wine from the Veneto at £4.50 for 125ml.
The menu is quite small and very simple: antipasti, pasta and dolci (dessert). There were 8 antipasti ranging in price from £3 for ciabatta and a special olive oil to £6.50 for Culatello di Mandolino – sliced Cultatello ham. There were also 8 pasta dishes, the cheapest being Mezzelune pasta with Parma ham, potatoes, Amalfi lemon and thyme for £5.50 and the most expensive Green agnolotti pasta with black truffle and ricotta at £13.
They are all really ‘small plates’ with the view that people will share some and when we ordered just 3, our waiter politely tried to suggest it might not be enough. We were certain it would be though – we’d seen plates at the next table and neither of us wanted to eat a huge amount pre-theatre. It turned out to be perfect for us – though hungrier people or those not in a hurry might want more.
There were no ‘sides’ and I suggested we share a salad from the antipasti choices: Finocchio, Topinambur, Arance e Olive con Vinaigrette al Bergamotto – Fennel, orange and artichoke salad with a Bergamot dressing (£6). We were asked how we’d like it – on its own or with the pasta. I said to please bring it but not hold back on the pasta – bring that when it was ready.
The salad looked beautiful when it was put before us.
It was really good. It was so fresh and quite crunchy with its paper-thin slices of raw fennel and Jerusalem artichoke; the sweetness of the orange and a glorious floral hint from the Bergamot dressing added an almost exotic touch.
Lucia and I chose the same pasta dish: Ravioli di Zucca, Burro Salvia e Nocciole del Piemonte DOP – pumpkin filled ravioli with sage butter and Piemontese hazelnuts (£9).
There were just four ravioli but they were quite large. It looked great and it tasted absolutely wonderful. Really, this was some of the best pasta I’ve ever had. The pasta was cooked to that perfect al dente; the ravioli were generously filled with the sweet and delicious pumpkin and the crushed hazelnuts on top made it all gorgeous.
There were other great choices: some chittara spaghetti with Dorset crab (£9.50); pappardelle with slow cooked veal ragu (£10); pici with porcini mushrooms and Umbrian sausage (£7)
There were 4 tempting desserts, including their famous cannoli, but we’d both had enough and it was getting close to the time we needed to head to the theatre, so we ordered just coffee – a macchiato for Lucia and espresso for me (£2.50 each).
The total bill, including service, was just under £38 for the two of us.
What a great find the Lina Stores restaurant is. I just loved it. The atmosphere was buzzing and welcoming and the food is fantastico! As we came up upstairs to leave, there was a long bar to eat at and outside, now just past 7.00pm, a queue was forming. All I can say is, it will be worth the wait!