I've lived in London for nearly 17 years and in that time have covered most of zone 2, before settling in West/North West ish London a few years ago, which I love. However, last night's visit to Linden Stores, a family run wine shop and restaurant in Highbury, had me wishing I still lived in North East London. Linden Stores is my actual dream neighbourhood restaurant come true. The kind of place I pine for in my own neighbourhood. A wine shop, where you can sample wines before you buy them by buying a glass of any of their wines for a fiver, that also does small plates of wonderful, very affordable, modern European food and has a buzzing atmosphere despite having less than 20 covers.

We were the first table to arrive at Linden Stores so chose to sit at one in the window and watch the world go by and the rain hammer down. The wine list is varied and interesting and I ordered a glass of Tremendous  - a white Rioja. Alex had a glass of Laventure - also a white Rioja, both made from the Viura grape, but each with distinct characteristics. The Laventure won for both of us, but not by much as both were bright, zesty white wines with strong soft white fruit flavours. I love a white Rioja and I think I've got it on my brain at the moment as I'm writing the menu for a pop up I'm doing with Campo Viejo (the well known wine brand from Rioja) in October.

Food wise, we sampled most of the menu, starting with pork scratchings and apple puree. The thinnest slices of pork skin cut right through to the layers of fat had been deep fried, creating almost crisp like crackling, and served with a sharp and sweet apple puree. For £3. There are gastropubs up and down the country charging £5+ for a "snack" of slightly chewy, often hairy chunks of too salty "pork scratching" so save your teeth, money and waistline and head to Linden Stores for theirs instead. Genuinely the best version of pork scratchings I've tried. And the best value.

From one version of perfect to another. Chicken liver pate, crostini and pickled cherry. 3 crostini for £3.... and not even a one bite kind of crostini. A proper plate of snacking food - sweet, rich, gamey, salty and slightly sharp, these were heaven in more than a mouthful. And again, SUCH incredible value. We ordered two rounds and agreed we could have ordered more - they were so good. It seems like such an easy thing to get right, but so many places get it wrong. 

Other highlights from our meal included pea and Yorkshire fettle croquettes with homemade mint mayonnaise. Light and full of cheese, with a just-so crispy coating, and the mayo made with what tasted like rapeseed oil and lifted just enough but not overpowered by a touch of fresh mint. 

Home cured bresola had been curing for 12 weeks and was served piled high on a board, and covered with finely grated Quickes Cheddar from Devon (or Quickies according to their menu, a typo I loved!), garlic crumb for crunch, spring onions and chives for freshness. It was melt in the mouth good and disappeared in seconds. 

One of my absolute favourite dishes of the evening was the last one to arrive. Chicken, smoked aubergine, peas, potato dumplings and cherries (again!) The chicken was perfectly cooked and seasoned, juicy and moreish, and married so well with the other flavours on the plate, and with the glass of smooth, velvety Malbec I had with it.

Not only does Linden Stores produce some of the best plates of food I've eaten in a while, it's ridiculously good value - our bill would've come to around £100, but we were kindly invited so the restaurant comped our meal. My favourite thing is being invited to try out a restaurant and already planning our next visit under our own steam before we even leave. They also have a private dining room downstairs, run wine tastings and classes and other events throughout the months. It's a neighbourhood gem that's well worth travelling for, so I'll be finding my excuses to get back over to Highbury as soon as possible!
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