Richard Falk’s new City-based venture Lino seems a world away from the cosy rusticity of his former place of employ, The Dairy in Clapham. Designed in collaboration with Wright and Bell, this former linoleum factory in Barbican is expansive, oddly-shaped and industrial. Straight away you notice the exposed air conditioning ducts and, right in the middle, a conspicuous bar island like the Tardis’ control desk writ large. Being an all-day watering hole and meeting point for local professionals, it has both the buzz and impersonal disconnectedness of an airport. They have been creative with the table arrangements and partition walls to make the space as interesting and as comfortable as possible, even if such partitions impede service or sacrifice one’s view of the open kitchen.
it’s hard to tell what Lino’s USP is
On arrival we had the choice of either a low salmon-coloured banquette by the door or an oddly triangular table further within the restaurant. Not relishing the prospect of an arctic blast every time the door opened, the triangular table it was to be (mercifully equilateral rather than isosceles). Furnished with neatly-presented paper menus, m’colleague and I muttered to one another “so far so good.” But we spoke too soon. There then came a mysteriously long wait, perhaps due to the irregular shape of the venue making it difficult to catch a waiter’s eye. That said, serving staff shouldn’t need to be prompted to take your order when you’ve been sitting there for 15 minutes, visibly aging. There was a frustrating lack of progress, like Tory cabinet ministers trying to conduct Brexit negotiations whilst walking up a descending escalator. When our aperitifs finally arrived, m’colleague’s Martini was fine but the wrong Negroni was delivered (their barrel-aged one instead of the requested classic). The wine order had to be chased. By the time of our visit they had already been open for 3 months so service niggles should’ve been ironed out by now.
It’s commendable that everything is made in house but it’s hard to tell what Lino’s USP is. The website proudly declares “we re-use, re-love and re-imagine.” The “re-use” of ingredients seems clear enough – sauerkraut and hazelnuts bizarrely made several appearances on the menu in different forms. The rest is less clear.
The meal began on a strong note: sauerkraut and cheddar croquettes on a truffle mayonnaise were heavenly and, quite frankly, the star of the whole meal.
Things started to go progressively downhill after that. My starter of burrata with pear and hazelnut was more of an assemblage of ingredients than a dish and had a hair in it (not my own). M’colleague’s steak tartare with smoked duck egg and homemade sourdough was more successful, though no better than the same dish at The Coach. It’s familiar and homely but not entirely living up to the we “re-love” and we “re-imagine” philosophy.
The gatropubby vibe continued with the venison and potato pie, which was dry and became a challenge to eat. A real shame. M’colleague kept his own counsel about his pork belly with cavolo nero and yet more sauerkraut, but his lack of enthusiasm said it all.
Having heard great reports of their croissant bread and butter pudding it was a disappointment that the only desserts available on our visit were essentially breakfast cereals. A kind of deconstructed cheesecake comprising hazelnuts (again!), apple and a creamy cheesecake filling spooned on top made for an adequate dish but didn’t really impress.
At least it isn’t a rip-off. “Small plates” are around 8-10 quid, mains around the 15-20 quid ballpark – commensurate with any mid-range bistro or decent pub. But it’s still somewhat disappointing when the only memorable thing about the meal was the amuse bouche. For the local offices I’m sure Lino will be fine for breakfast meetings or post-work piss-ups, but if it’s aiming to follow The Dairy’s footsteps in being a destination restaurant then it needs to pull its socks up.
90 Bartholomew Close
by J A Smith