Italian produce fans will be no stranger to Soho’s Lina Stores, founded in 1944 when Soho was a hub of Italian cafes and restaurants. 70 years later and, though Soho has moved through many phases (a gathering point for intellectuals, the heart of London’s jazz and punk rock culture to the hub of foodie spots and digital agencies it is today), the family-run Italian deli is still going strong.
The mint green tiled corner store is like Tiffany’s for foodies: a treasure trove of Italian produce. Counters are piled high with the likes of ‘nduja and finocchiona, Gorgonzola and mozzarella; shelves groan with imported Italian goods (from metre-long frilly pasta to pretty bottles of passata); and a fresh pasta counter displays jewel-like shapes of ravioli and more.
Until recently, their artisan produce was only available to take away (it’s a great pre-picnic stop off for trips to Green Park), but Lina Stores recently had a revamp. The shop front window has been cleared to squeeze in a sleek custom pale turquoise-tiled counter where you can perch on stools beneath hanging legs of prosciutto, rustic jugs and sprigs of dried herbs.
There’s a short cocktail menu that checks all the Italian classics (negronis, amaro sours and spritz), though we decided to venture out and try something a bit different, the Cynar spritz. Cynar is a bitter Italian liqueur made with artichoke leaves, giving it a subtle, bittersweet vegetal note that complimented the Campari and was served in a big goblet with plenty of ice.
We nibbled on creamy and nutty Sicilian Nocellara olives while deciding what to choose from the roll call of Italian delicacies. The mixed platter of cured meats and cheeses came on a wooden palate with Prosicutto di Parma, Feline Salame, speck, ‘red cow’ Parmigiano Reggiano, red wine ‘drunken’ cheese, mature provolone, more mixed Italian olives, crostini and uniquely textured mustard spiced fruits with grassy olive oil from Le Marche in Eastern Italy.
Bruschetta came with freshly chopped tomato, garlic, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil on toasted bread. It was lovely and fresh but the tomatoes hadn’t been soaked for long enough so didn’t have that juiciness that we like in our bruschetta.
Where the new menu at Lina Stores really shines is through the fresh pasta. Head up to the daily rotating menu scribbled on boards at the back of the shop and choose between ravioli, tagliatelle and fusilli, all sprinkled with Lina Stores Parmesan and crisp sage leaves.
Veal ravioli was gamey with a lovely soft texture, and smoked mozzarella and wild broccoli had a subtle smokiness that really complimented the chopped fresh broccoli. The standout dish was by far ravioli with an incredibly light and airy walnut and Gorgonzola filling, so delicate and moreish that we went back to the counter mid way through our meal to purchase another portion to take home.
Before leaving, we gathered an Italian-style pick and mix of artisan chocolates and sweet treats from the various jars and boxes to enjoy later – individually wrapped amaretti biscuits, ‘gianduiotto’ hazelnut chocolate truffles, and creamy chocolate-coated hazelnut treats Baci Perugina.
Written by Alex Crossley
First published October 2016