Linnea is an intimate restaurant in Kew, run by a Swedish chef, that has been open since October 2013. Its name is thoughtful considering the eatery is just a few strides from Kew Gardens—Linnea is a type of honeysuckle, which is the national flower of Sweden.
For the decor think a whiff of Scandinavian minimalism: clean lines, cereal-coloured walls and simple dark wooden furniture cut in modern shapes. The chef who runs the show, Jonas Karlsson, has been in the UK for almost 15 years. He was head chef at the Fifth Floor Cafe at Harvey Nichols before opening Linnea.
But it’s his childhood influences, growing up near his grandparents’ farm and spending his free days foraging berries and mushrooms, that really shine through in Linnea’s food. It has a rustic, home-made quality but still tastes luxurious.
I started with the celeriac soup with apple and chive oil and croutons. The soup had body but the texture was silky and I could taste the refreshing, crisp flavours of the celeriac; the chive oil injected a contrasting sweetness.
Next were scallops, smoked in-house using a whiskey barrel, with leek and endive fondue and toasted almonds. I had never had smoked scallops before and I was worried that the smokiness would annihilate the delicate flavour of the scallop. I took one bite and I was intrigued. Another and I was sold. The smoking had added a deeper, daring dimension to the scallops but I could still taste the freshness of the fish.The fondue was creamy (but not stodgy) and the mild fresh flavours gave a nice accompaniment to the scallops. The almonds seemed logical, adding a warm, luxuriant crunch to the soft textures of the plate.
The next course, pork and pistachio rillettes with toasted sourdough and gherkins, was hopelessly Scandinavian. It was also more controversial. My companion wouldn’t finish hers and poked it around the plate listlessly. I liked the texture of the rillettes, which were meaty (not mushy or stringy) but the nuttiness of the pistachio was not mingling into the meat as I’d hoped. The sourdough bread was good but not as moreish as I know it can be, and I wished the uninspiring gherkins were an exotic pickled chutney concocted by chef Karlsson instead.
There was recovery in the next act, which took me by surprise because it was fish pie. I am typically unenthusiastic about fish pie because the fish pie of my childhood (cooked by my mother) was awful. Karlsson’s fish pie was exceptional. The salmon was melt-in-the-mouth. The seasoning and peppers gave off a serious aroma, like ambling through a herb garden. I could taste the leeks and the potato was crisp and sweet at the top as it should be. For all the potatoes and cream, it has a confoundingly light quality.
Dessert was pineapple and mango mess with meringue and coconut ice cream. It was an approachable, light dessert with plenty of punch (but not tartness) from the fruit and the tiny meringues were well executed. I wasn’t wowed, but it was good and the rest of the meal had been impressive enough.
In sum, Linnea is an excellent little restaurant serving thoughtful, elegant food. If your budget stretches, let the waiter pair your meal with wine as they know what they are doing and have a nice collection, including some delicious Rieslings and Merlots. My trip to the restaurant was worth the trek on the train to Kew Bridge. I’d go again.