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David Ellis On the Sauce at Bar Lina: Soho basement bar is pure sex-in-the-Sixties with an Italian twist

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

Time is a train with no doors and no stations to stop at. It follows that finding parity with the past is basically a pointless endeavour — but given rather a lot of what I do is basically a pointless endeavour, I’ve decided to forgive myself in this instance. We’re back a decade and you’re playing Guess The Bill in a five star place (always the recommended behaviour). What’s the damage for a drink? And today — same question? Points if you had about £14 for then; gold stars for £25 or so now.

This 80 per cent-ish increase is bad if you’re picking the tab up for you alone; it’s sweat-inducing if you’re out with expectant others. But time is a train wi— yes, right, let’s move on. Still, to walk past the tinkling tins of amaretti and down into the dark red fuzz of Bar Lina brings to mind a different era. It’s there in the pricing (things start at £9, lots hover about £12), and more obviously in the look.

Sat beneath the original Lina Stores — the Brewer Street delicatessen, not one of the restaurants — the room is all sex-in-the-Sixties; it is Ronnie Scott’s dark, burgundy and espresso all over, bottles sat in a dressing room half-light. There is marble, there is brass; what’s missing is Christine Keeler casting spells with a cigarette holder. If it weren’t brand new, you might think the Krays had an interest.

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

Mind you, two East Enders probably couldn’t have dreamt up the menu. A pal of mine asked for a margarita, and was met with a doleful kind of incredulity; Bar Lina is resolutely Italian. This means bottles of Campari, Punt e Mes, Luxardo. There’s Galliano, grappa, a gin from Moncalieri.

A menu of 20 cocktails, including a number of non-alcoholics neatly folded among the rest, is divided between 10 Bar Lina creations, five Negroni riffs, five spritz. The Brivido Felino (homemade fig liquor, walnut liquor, cacao nib-infused sweet vermouth) offers smooth-talking richness; the Basilico (gin, Rinomato bianco vermouth, citric acid, salt, basil, milk) is a martini given a garden hit of herbaceous, green flavour. There were others. Enough we should have ordered some charcuterie to steady ourselves. If I could go back and change one thing about our night, that would be it. Ah well. Time is a train, and all that.

Cocktails from £9, 18 Brewer Street, W1F 0SG, barlina.co.uk