Lina Stores, Soho

Lina Stores is a historic institution in Soho, known for its charming, Instagram-friendly turquoise facade. Inside there is a unrivalled collection of Italian specialities and a delicatessen selling delicious Mediterranean produce.

Lina StoresLina Stores

And this Spring Lina Stores finally opened an eatery, so fans can try the delicious Italian ingredients cooked to perfection by the Italian head chef Masha Rener. Found on Greek Street, the restaurant is immediately recognisable from its signature stripy awning. Inside a counter offers an atmospheric dining experience or you can choose to sit downstairs in the cosy dining room. Food photographers like me will, I’m sure, opt for the outdoor seats, especially in balmy weather.

Lina Stores

We were greeted with open arms and wide smiles, the staff seem genuinely pleased to see guests, despite being immediately popular with London diners. With guidance from our waiter we chose a selection of the most desirable dishes.

Favourites included the Aubergine Polpette, soft and beautifully seasoned with a crunchy coating and the simple but wonderful Toast with buffalo ricotta and spicy ‘nduja.

Lina Stores

There are pasta dishes to suit every requirement, and the portion sizes lend themselves to sharing – I suggest 3 between 2.   Gnudi is a rich but delightful vegetarian option, a flour-free pasta made with ricotta and spinach and served in a moreish brown butter and sage sauce. I also loved the delicately flavoured courgette & mint ravioli with a vibrant cherry tomato sauce and the Pici pasta with rustic woody porcini mushrooms and aromatic Umbrian sausage.

Lina Stores

Desserts are often an afterthought at good casual Italian restaurants, but Lina excel here too. The Rich dark chocolate cake with whipped cream is perhaps the best of its kind I’ve tried in London, rich but light with a lovely moist texture. Lemon sorbet is great too, so creamy and smooth it could have been ice-cream, but I was assured it has no dairy in it!

Lina Stores is a great place to come for a snack and aperitif, quick pasta pick-me-up or a full blown Italian feast. With so many homemade pasta joints in town the competition is tough at the moment, but unsurprisingly Lina Rick every box, and I can’t wait to get back to try the rest of the menu.

More information and book a table here.

Le Poulet du Dimanche, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught

How many times have you been asked what your last meal on earth would be? It seems to be a question which comes up most weeks between food writers and bloggers. Roast chicken is often the meal I choose, which, for me, brings back memories of my family all gathering round the table on a Sunday to enjoy the most delicious meal together. This must be the reason behind Hélène Darroze’s Le Poulet du Dimanche menu at the Connaught, a magical menu focussed around Sunday roast chicken and all the trimmings.

Helene Darroze

Hélène Darroze at The Connaught focusses on food from Hélène’s homeland, the Basque region of France. This special Sunday menu is centred around the Landes chicken from the Basque, an exceptional bird known for its superior quality and flavour. Each course of the set five course menu features a different part of the chicken or egg, and for Hélène it is a celebration of this beautiful produce whilst also illustrating that her kitchen tries to always be sustainable and utilise the whole animal.

After a glass of wonderfully refreshing Franck Pascal, Fluence champagne we were treated to the speciality freshly baked bread and my favourite vibrant orange espelette pepper butter. The first course was a trio of perfect bites:

Crispy skin and chicken liver mousse

Confit egg yolk and Parmeggiano Reggiano

Chicken oyster and juniper

Each was more delicious than the last, and we savoured this first course, not wanting the meal to be over too quickly! The chicken skin was delicate, carefully sandwiched with rich and creamy liver mousse. The egg was  delicate but rich, masterfully injected with a hint of parmesan. But it was the chicken oyster which was my favourite, this juicy part of the chicken was intensely flavoured and infused with herbaceous flavours that reminded me of the pine-filled forests of France.

Helene DarrozeHelene Darroze

The second course  soon arrived, Le bouillon de la poule au pot comme le souhaitait Henry IV – Chicken consommé, ravioli of Bigotte ham, vegetables from the pot, roasted country bread croutons.

The broth was delicate and clear but full of hearty flavours that would remind anyone of a roast meal… caramelised vegetables and sticky meat juices, seasoned with an abundance of herbs. The tiny parcels of pasta were beautifully made, encasing sweet Bayonne ham, another speciality from the South-west of France. Just as we were about to slurp up the final spoonfuls of broth, the waiter arrived to offer a few drops of Darroze family Armagnac to the sauce. It added a smooth piquancy and depth to the last mouthfuls.

Helene Darroze

The main event was, of course, the roast chicken (Le poulet rôti du Dimanche de ma grand-mère Louise), which is first brought to the table whole, fresh from the oven and smelling divine. The expertly trained waiter then carefully carved the glistening brown breasts and placed each on a pre-prepared plate of asparagus, morels and airy potatoes soufflés. The foie gras under the skin added so much flavour to the perfectly cooked chicken, and the asparagus was a nod to the seasons freshly ingredients. My own slight disappointment was the lack of sauce, which I felt could have nicely brought all the elements on the plate together.

Helene Darroze

Just as we were lamenting the end of our chicken dish, two pretty plates arrived with tiny, immaculately assembled tacos. Using the remaining meat the Hélène Darroze team create Asian inspired tacos, which I’m sure is a nod to her two beloved daughters, adopted from Vietnam. The little bite-sized chicken confit leg tacos were topped with creamy avocado and colourful edible flowers.

Helene Darroze

The dessert offered playful variations around the theme of ‘The Egg’. The assortment of small dishes were light and palate-cleansing recipes, each focusing on tropical fruit flavours.

As always, our meal at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught was faultless. The atmosphere, service and food at this eatery are among the best in London, but what really makes a meal here memorable is that Hélène clearly puts her heart and soul into ever dish, none more so than the Roast Chicken menu. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The limited Le Poulet du Dimanche menu is only available on Sundays, and is priced at £150 to share for 2 guests. More information and book a table for Hélène Darroze at The Connaught here.

Ikoyi, St James Market

Ikoyi is an unusual restaurant in a very usual place. Adventurous diners should head here if they are bored of the tacos, vegan burgers and baos that currently dominate the London restaurant scene. The small, smart eatery is found tucked away in the shiny St James complex, decorated with modern furniture, trendy lighting and colourful artwork.

Ikoyi

The service was slick and subtle throughout our lunch. The waiter offered advice when needed but didn’t bother us with unnecessary niceties, which I was grateful for. In such a busy business district it is important to be able to enjoy a speedy lunch and Ikoyi seem well rehearsed in this… there is a reasonably priced lunch menu which features three courses of speciality dishes.

IkoyiIkoyi

The restaurant name pays tribute to a wealthy district in the Nigerian town of Lagos, and the menu shows influence from West African cuisine. But this is not a casual affair, Ikoyi should definitely be considered fine dining, and the prices reflect this with main courses costing around £30 each.

We chose based on our waiter’s recommendations, and the initial snacks turned out to be two of our favourite dishes. Buttermilk Plantain & Smoked Scotch Bonnet is as delicious as it is appealing; bright maroon shards of sweet plantain are coated in a smoky salt and served with a creamy spicy dip. Seriously tasty and not too painfully spicy! Cow skin Sandwich was also wonderful, a light crispy bite filled with edible flowers.

IkoyiIkoyi

There are intriguing cocktails and wines to choose from, but we opted for the two non-alcoholic drinks. A refreshing Grape Zobo with Tannins, strawberry and long pepper and the more tropical Ikoyi Chapman, made with Hibiscus, guava and sour passionfruit.

Of the starters Mushroom Suya with malted barley and pine was an interesting dish, aromatic with an intense depth of earthy flavour – I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. Chicken Gizzards with plantain and toast was less challenging than you might expect, the perfectly cooked offal was soft and tasty accompanied by the sweet plantain.

IkoyiIkoyi

The main courses were absolutely beautiful, presented on vibrant plates that showed off Chef Jeremy Chan’s flair and creativity. Chicken Efo & Asparagus was nice but not memorable, immaculately cooked poultry with an assortment of spicy sauces, and one lone asparagus stem. Although I usually don’t eat fish, I couldn’t resist trying the Fish Pepper Soup with squash and shiso as it just smelt so wonderful. It was perhaps the least daring dish of the meal, but for me it ticked every box; light and warming with a magical broth. If you like crab, do try the Smoked Crab Jollof Rice, which a few friends had recommended to me before my visit.

Ikoyi

The striking black and magenta dessert was perhaps the winning dish of the day. Served in a decadently dark bowl, this unusual recipe featured flavours of black benne (a type of sesame) and blackcurrant. The deep nutty sesame taste paired beautifully with the creamy sweet fruitiness of the blackcurrant… it was moreish and satifying, sweet and savoury with a touch of sourness. I can’t remember the last time I liked a dessert this much.

Those living and working in the St James’ area must be overjoyed at the recent rush of new exciting eateries. But while many are following obvious culinary trends, Ikoyi is offering something completely new, a chance to try flavours and ingredients not often represented in our foodie capital.

More information and book a table at Ikoyi here.