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Lina Stores: The makings of a classic

/ Categories Restaurant reviews, Behind the scenes / Author:

Lina Stores: The makings of a classic

For the last few years carbohydrates, particularly the non-complex kind, have been getting a bad rep. But London seems to have regained its appetite. You only have to look at the perma-queue trying to get through the doors at Padella as evidence to this. Ailie takes a visit to Lina Stores to review London's latest pasta offering.

Fans of Italian produce will be no stranger to Soho’s Lina Stores, an iconic institution selling only the best ingredients that Italy has to offer. So it’s no surprise that they set tongues wagging when they announced phase two of the operation, seventy five years after the first; their own restaurant opening on Soho’s Greek Street.

To pull off the move from historic deli to in-vogue restaurant, Lina Stores needed a skilled chef: cue Masha Rener. Seduced, along with many other home-sick Italians, by the deli almost two decades ago Masha remained close friends with the Lina Stores family and so, when deciding to open a restaurant, it was an obvious choice to have her at the helm. 

We arrived dead on opening time and secured our seats at the 12-seater bar facing the open kitchen, if counter style dining isn’t your thing there are an additional 40 seats in the restaurant downstairs. Inside, a vivid palette of mint combines with pendant lighting, leather stools and shelves piled high with lust-inducing produce for that mid-century Italian vibe.

I choose an Italicus Sour from the short cocktail menu, a classic sour made with egg white for a light, silky texture combined with gin, nettle syrup and Italicus liqueur making it the perfect aperitif that goes down all too easily. 

The food menu is equally short and sweet but I’ve been assured by our server that it will be spot on as it has taken over two years and over sixty menu tastings to decide on these final dishes. Masha can obviously hear our excitement, enthusiasm and indecision over all of the tempting dishes and heads over to provide some recommendations. 

“It’s very important to find good ingredients,” she tells us. Like many Italian restaurants, the menu is based around seasonality and availability, with most dishes containing no more than four or five ingredients. She suggests the Aubergine polpette and 'Nduja with ricotta. True to her word the simple ingredients stole the show; the crispy shell of the polpette giving way to a soft, flavoursome interior and, whilst the 'nduja and ricotta will never be the most photogenic of dishes, the creamy ricotta proved the perfect partner to the piquant and meaty 'nduja.

As curious, and greedy, foodies we opt for four pasta dishes between us, and at these prices it would be a shame not to.

“Like many Italian restaurants, the menu is based around seasonality and availability, with most dishes containing no more than four or five ingredients. ”

First out of the kitchen was the Pici alla Norcina, perfectly al dente strings of thick pasta, slightly reminiscent of spaghetti, in a creamy porcini mushroom and Umbrian sausage sauce. Bursting with umami flavours and an aniseed-y bitter-sweetness, it goes dreamily with the glass of Gavi that I move on to.

The Veal ravioli with toasted garlic breadcrumbs is equally sumptuous; a superb earthy, meaty filling given an extra layer of texture by the crunchy, toasted breadcrumbs.

Up next comes the light-as-air, melt in your mouth Ricotta and herb gnudi, often a disappointment, these prove to be a must-order dish, chockful of green herbs and fruity, nutty flavours provided by the Parmesan.

The real standout dish of the evening comes in the form of the Rrabbit ragu pappardelle, and I am in agreement with others when they say it should be one of the modern wonders of the world. Ribbons of egg pasta nestle themselves in amongst the most succulent and juicy morsels of rabbit with the distinct flavours of rosemary and olive coming through at the end. 

The manager informs us that the rabbit has been cooked in a very simple stock at a very low temperature and very, very slowly to reach these otherworldly levels of tenderness, the stock is then reduced and transformed into the ragu that reaches your plate. 

Not one to shy away from dessert and despite having no room (not even in our other stomachs!), we decide that we wouldn’t regret sharing a portion of the Limoncello and lemon sorbet, which definitely turns out to be the right decision. Served in a halved lemon it provided just the right amount of bold zestiness and leaves us zinging right up to paying the (very modest) bill.

With food this well executed, and the quality of ingredients beaming at every opportunity, I’d happily place bets that it won’t be long before people will be queuing round the block for a seat at the restaurant showing London how pasta should be done. Fingers crossed the restaurant lasts as long as their deli.

Author: Ailie Bishop

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