The name Lina Stores was born out of error. Originally meant to be Lina’s Store, a handwritten typo made by the eponymous Lina led to a mistake on the signage of the original deli in London’s Soho that was never rectified. That was in 1944, and in the intervening 75 years not much has changed about Lina on Brewer Street. The business, however, has developed.
Having secured finances from venture capital business White Rabbit Fund a couple of years back, and following the appointment of chef Masha Rener to help develop the menu, the brand sought to grow. First came a pasta bar on Greek Street, which opened in 2018; and now a larger and much grander second iteration has arrived close to both Coal Drops Yard and Granary Square in King’s Cross.
With a dining space that’s more than double in size to Lina’s first site (the Soho pasta bar has 48 covers, while King’s Cross can seat 100), the opening marks a notable next step for the iconic London-based Italian deli and restaurant company, being the brand’s first location to encompass both concepts under one roof.
“When the opportunity to open in King’s Cross came up, we knew it was a chance to do something a bit different,” says White Rabbit Fund founder Chris Miller, who has been working directly with Lina Stores’ Italian owners to develop the business. “It’s a larger space and a risky location, but one that comes with great opportunity. Using it to bring the two concepts together made sense; it’s a celebration of the business as a whole.”
Lina Stores’ Soho pasta bar was, arguably, always going to be a success. It opened in the midst of an ongoing fresh pasta revolution in the capital, which was kickstarted by the launch of Jordan Frieda and Tim Siadatan’s Padella in Borough Market in 2016. Building the Lina brand as a dedicated pasta chain would appear to have been the path of least resistance when it comes to growth (Lina Stores was named Best New Scalable Concept at Restaurant’s annual R200 Awards last month).
“We were slightly blown away by the success of the pasta bar, but fundamentally Lina Stores is an Italian brand,” adds Miller. “The crucial thing for us going forward is to ensure each Lina site has its own unique identity; pasta will always be the core of the restaurant offering, but the Lina name stands for something more.”
The King’s Cross menu is notably larger than anything Lina Stores has offered previously. New additions to the antipasti selection includes a globe artichoke to share that’s topped with breadcrumbs and parmesan, with an artichoke mayonnaise on the side for dipping; while the pasta menu now boasts an orecchiette dish with lamb sausage, turnip tips and chilli.
More notable additions can be found further down the menu, which at King’s Cross features a selection of larger meat and fish dishes including braised beef cheek cooked in wine and served with cep and polenta; grilled prawns with schiacciatella and burnt lemon; and a veal rib eye with salsa verde to share. There’s also a number of new side dishes such as charred cabbage with pine nuts and chilli; grilled pumpkin with mint, garlic and olive oil; and roasted fennel with confit lemon. The mains are priced higher, with the veal steak coming in at £36; a marked difference to the pasta plates that predominately range between the £7 and £10 mark. The pasta dishes carry a reasonable price tag but their sizing is slightly problematic in that one is not quite enough but two is too much – when eating in a group this can make it harder when ordering.
The menu may be broader, but it’s notable how closely the space visually adheres to the Lina Stores image. There’s something akin to Wes Anderson’s Bar Luce in Milan in the design, which blends mint green colours with globe pendant lighting and Formica furniture. The floor, meanwhile, consists of striking (and “obscenely expensive”) Italian marble. Guests can sit at the bar, which overlooks the open pasta kitchen; or at tables in the main dining area, which features two raised booths with plush, banquette seating.
The deli retains the charming visual clutter of the original Brewer Street site, the packed delicatessen bursting with cured meats and cheeses and the surrounding shelves chock-full of Italian produce. A deli menu is also available until 4pm every day, and features a selection of grab-and-go panini and pasta dishes priced between £6 and £8.
It may have taken 75 years, but early indications suggest Lina Stores’ journey to King’s Cross has been worth the wait. Miller is keeping his plans for the future close to his chest for now, but hints that as well as growing the brand further within London, there may be opportunity to expand internationally in the coming years. The name may be a mistake, but it would appear Lina Stores’ success is no accident.
20 Stable Street, King’s Cross, London
To read more on the growth of London’s fresh pasta restaurant scene, pick up the latest issue of Restaurant magazine; the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. To subscribe, click here.