After my first visit to the brand new Lina Stores in King’s Cross, I refused to write a review, because I reasoned that almost all the staff would be fired by the end of the month. How unfair to air my feelings about the gum-chewing miscreant at reception who chivvied us in with all the grace of a meat-raffle caller on an oil rig. Or the surly servers who rolled their eyes at my request to move somewhere less draughty. Or the food – specifically, the overcooked pappardelle with its weak, forgettable, busking version of oxtail ragu. Lina Stores had been open for only seven days, after all, and launching a 100-seater Italian – and one that’s open from dawn to dusk seven days a week – for the bunfight of tourists and families who head each day to Pancras Square is no task for the meek.
This largely pedestrianised, multipurpose space now boasts dozens of restaurants, boutiques and businesses. Change in footfall has come rapidly. The multi-floored Dishoom outpost at the other end of Stable Street is often a one-in, one-out affair, while the door staff at family-friendly antipodean brunch spot Caravan on nearby Granary Square are masters of crowd control. It’s no mystery why the chain restaurants – albeit the very cool ones such as those two and the imminent Hoppers and Bao – have moved in.
Lina Stores, on the other hand, has always been something of a curiosity. Known primarily as a delicatessen on Soho’s Brewer Street since 1944, its name trades on homespun, straight-outta-Genova authenticity. Chefs adore the place; it’s all so real. Lina’s iconic, emerald-green tiles are beset by piles of lavishly wrapped panettone, panforte and torrone. If Jamie Oliver still tormented London on that scooter of his, seeking out “pukka produce” as he did in the 90s, the original shop is the sort of place he’d go to grapple with slabs of taleggio before riding off with a rucksack full of prosciutto San Daniele to a soundtrack of Dodgy’s Staying Out For The Summer.
But it’s the year 2020 and, cashing in on all that goodwill, Lina Stores has now shifted its unique, bespoke loveliness first to a restaurant around the corner on Greek Street, though at least that’s still Soho, and now to this whopping great space two miles away.
The new Lina Stores is undeniably beautiful. It’s a cool, retro, mint-green diner with a lavish sit-up bar where I was fully intending to fritter away next August, smouldering away like Sophia Loren in Black Orchid and making my way dutifully down the vermouth-based cocktail list while my editor made churlish noises about my P45.
But it is not to be. The second time I visit, the floor staff are indeed all different. I walk in without a reservation and am given a place at the bar close to an open kitchen door and overlooking the person laying out the antipasti. It offers many clues as to why nothing is delicious.
Triangle cuts of fried polenta and roast mushroom sit waiting to be assembled. The polenta is overcooked by any sane standards, yet seems destined to be lukewarm by the time it reaches any table. Aubergine polpette are small patties of unlovable mulch that have been shoved into hot oil for at least a minute too long, until they taste of little except the frying pan.
Good, salty anchovies turn up on rectangular slices of semi-stale brioche. “Charred heirloom tomatoes” are exactly that: not particularly moist any more, or even cooked until sweet or soft; just charred. Pane alle olive, featuring succulent, whole green olives, however, is very good.
The pasta is disappointing, just as it was on my first visit. How can 30-egg yolk tagliolini with vacche brune parmigiano, butter and black truffle be anything other than heaven? When it’s overcooked and the sauce stingy, that’s how. Orecchiette with lamb sausage, cime di rapa and chilli could have been any cooked mince with an Oxo stock cube chucked into the mix.
Most of this is forgivable if a place is jolly, but yet again, the mood of the staff was a war of attrition against the public. They had opened this beautiful restaurant – a bigger version of their chic Soho one that’s mainly favoured by the cognoscenti and chefs resting their chafed bits on Mondays – and now this bloody rabble are here from 8am to midnight every day, with their nans and kids to boot, and it’s not remotely fun.
The mains I ordered were forgotten, so after waiting 30 minutes and then being asked if I wanted the bill, I tasted something far better than Lina’s pasta: freedom. I grabbed it readily. I shall carry on going to the one in Soho. Sometimes, smaller really is better.
• Lina Stores King’s Cross 20 Staple Street, London N1, 020-8103 4787. Open lunch, Mon-Sun, noon-5pm (3.30pm Sun), dinner 5-6pm, then walk-ins only. From about £28 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service.
Source: Thanks https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/jan/24/lina-stores-kings-cross-london-n1-restaurant-review-grace-dent