What can you tell us about Linden Stores?
This wine-shop/wine-bar/restaurant in Islington, down the Highbury end is run by Laura Christie, who also happens to be one half of Oklava and her partner in Chris Boustead, best known as half of Boustead & Bidois. As locals they wanted to open the kind of restaurant that they themselves wanted in the area.
Where is it?
If you're familiar with the area, you'll know the place as the former home of Prawn on the Lawn, before they moved to their bigger spot down the road. So that's about a five-minute walk from Highbury and Islington tube station.
Where should I go for a drink first?
The Alwyne Castle across the road is not a bad pub at all (particularly in the summer when the outside tables are more enticing) and you could also head to Prawn on the Lawn for a drink and a nibble before or after Linden Stores. A little further off the main drag, The Canonbury Arms is a good bet too.
So there's a wine shop upstairs?
Yes indeed, and the bulk of this space is taken up by an array of bottles that are very decently priced. And everything up here is available to drink on the spot with a £10 mark-up. Upstairs also doubles as a small wine bar, where you can grab some of the snacks that are available downstairs.
And how about the restaurant itself?
Head down the stairs and it's a small affair, seating about 15 - and you can book this space. But even if you were a walk-in, you can always perch upstairs while you wait for a table to be free.
And the menu?
It's a small plates affair that changes regularly. So regularly that the blackboard is the single menu available. And, as it's small plates, we suggest going by our usual rule - order gradually as you want things - food arrives fairly quickly so you'll have no problem pacing yourselves. And it's quite a menu - full of stuff that we immediately wanted to order. That said - the real picks of the night were:
We'll start with the smoked and fried spuds (£5) - oh my god, these were some of the best potatoes we've had (and we LOVE our spuds). Deeply crunchy with a bovril mayo for dipping. Even if you're just wandering past, pop in for a helping of these and a glass of wine and your day will be immeasurably improved.
Following on from that - we should also highlight the excellent bubble and squeak croquettes - also with that mayo (£5.50). Clearly, this is what we should be making with our Sunday roast leftovers.
We also liked the smoked beef stew and thyme dumplings - but felt it needed to be a little larger for £12. And we'll give the last shout-out to the braised cuttlefish, apple and chicory (£8) - which was a great, warming winter dish. You'll want to save some of your bread for this one.
So we should order the bread?
We think you should always order the bread in any restaurant - who knows what might need mopping up - but particularly in this case. The bread itself was excellent - but particular plaudits go to Linden Stores' Christmas Butter - which has a touch of the mince pie flavour about it - but in butter form. We hope that they replace it with something equally unique in January.
Obviously, the wine list is something to tackle?
Indeed it is - and it's a very affordable selection too, ranging between £17.50 and £30 on our visit. We opted for something we don't normally see on a list, a dry 2015 Tokaji from Hungary for £22.50. The list really shows how interesting their selections are - so if you live in the immediate area, it's a much-needed new wine source close to Highbury Corner.
We're locals, so we're personally very pleased to see something so promising hit this venue. The wine list is interesting and well priced, the small plates are inventive (and, of course, THOSE POTATOES) and all in all the downstairs room is highly convivial. We'll be returning, for sure.
Hot Dinners were invited to Linden Stores. Prices are correct at the time of writing.
More about Linden Stores
Where is it? 220 St Pauls Road, London N1 2LL
How to book: Book online
Find out more: Follow them on Instagram @lindenstores.