Nearly 75 years after opening its now-iconic Brewer Street delicatessen, Lina Stores has finally opened a restaurant to back it up. The brand’s original founder and namesake, Lina, opened the deli in 1944; it would become a true Soho institution, priding itself on “providing homesick Italians and in-the-know Londoners with the very best ingredients that Italy has to offer.” Now, those same homesick Italians, and pasta-crazed Londoners alike, can finally sit in to enjoy the brand’s revered fresh pastas, in a newly-opened restaurant on nearby Greek Street, with a young Italian chef at the helm. Eater London caught up with head chef Masha Rener to find out just what it took to get here.
Tell us about your time in Italy
I was born in a remote valley on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, where my parents raised me on an organic farm, restaurant and hotel, La Chiusa. I farmed the land, grew crops, raised animals and cooked alongside my mother. Everything was centred around respecting the ingredients, seasonality and cooking simply. When I took over the full operation, my menus changed daily, depending on what was available. I loved it, but it was physically tough!
What does the Lina brand means to you?
When I was 19, on my first trip to London, I was terribly homesick and used to go to Lina Stores on my way home most days. I have a strong bond with the owners and all the staff there. To be able to present an authentic piece of Italy in London is a very special thing. I’m not surprised it’s a Soho institution and I feel incredibly honoured to open Lina Stores’ first restaurant. It’s only taken 75 years!
How do you want to evolve the brand?
The original store is a very special place. How to evolve that into a restaurant without deviating too far from the original, has taken many years of discussion. On Greek Street, Lina Stores is instantly recognisable; however there’s a beautiful enhancement, a room you want to sit in, feel comfortable in and experience the same warmth of service as [at] the deli. With the addition of bar seating, open theatre kitchen and aperitivo bar, it’s how Italians like to eat and hang out. All ingredients are sourced through Lina Stores’ trusted Italian suppliers and local purveyors here in the UK. Fresh Pasta takes centre stage. We continue to produce it by hand, every day for the deli and restaurant, at Brewer Street. Most ingredients including the fresh pasta are available to take home from the deli.
Is there a plan to open more sites?
It’s taken us 75 years to open this one, therefore our aim at the moment is to concentrate on getting it right!
How do you feel about the way Soho is changing?
People talk a lot about this and there can be arguments for either side. Some changes are an enhancement, others a detriment. I love that I can still go to places like the Algerian coffee store or Lina Stores and hope there’s always room for these types of businesses as they are the heartbeat of Soho.
What do you think sets certain restaurants apart from others in 2018?
It’s a tough time for restaurateurs at the moment. I think in these times people will shift towards quality. Hopefully Lina Stores will be able to provide this experience.
Why is pasta suddenly having such a moment?
Pasta is definitely not new to London — it has been available for many, many years. Italian restaurants are probably one of the biggest offerings here. But I think what is happening is simply an evolution of that offering to really specialise on what is such a core part of Italian cuisine. Like most Italians, I eat pasta every day, and at Lina Stores Greek Street I want to provide it with as much creativity and quality as we possibly can. Fresh pasta making is a craft, and people love the theatre associated with it. With our open kitchen at Greek Street, guests will be able to see many of the pastas produced in front of them.