Five minutes with… Monika Linton

The founder of Brindisa talks about bringing Spain to London, cooking with cheese curd and sticking to a niche

People 28 Feb 2020

Monika Linton, the founder of Brindisa
A selection of Spanish specialities at Brindisa
Brindisa Kitchen Bar at Borough Market

Can you tell us about the new Brindisa Kitchen in Borough and how Spain’s Ruta de la Plata acted as a source of inspiration?

We were keen to bring the traditional chef-led food bar found in Spain’s markets to Borough. The ingredients and their cooking are right in front of you, and the immediacy is energising. And at the same time, you have fresh air around as you sit up at the outdoor bar: protected from the weather yet in the midst of the market.

The Ruta de la Plata runs coast to coast from north to south and travels through lands abundant with wonderful local ingredients; fish, pulses, game, alliums, brassicas, potatoes. It’s a route that I got to know in the 90s during one of Spain’s hardest winters. My husband and I got trapped by the snow in different villages as we travelled. Despite being cut off, we ate very well!

Our menu champions this diversity, and as a purveyor of ingredients, I’m always driven by the joy of finding new ones. In the early years of Brindisa, this area fascinated me as it’s off the beaten track, it crosses areas of great variety and it has microclimates along the route that are unique.

What will the menu be like and how does it differ from your other restaurants? 

We echo our pan Spanish tapas bars, Tapas Brindisa, in the takeaway menu. However, when dining in, our dishes are more traditional, served in small or large sizes, so you can order a selection or stick to a structured meal.

Do you think London has fully embraced Spanish cuisine and is there more for Londoners to discover? 

It’s possible to think that we have seen almost every traditional Spanish dish there is in London, as we are now spoilt for choice. However, I know there are still ingredients, foods and styles that have not hit London yet and may have a chance over the next few years to become known and appreciated.

Traditional and contemporary cured and dried foods such as cheeses, fish and wild plants are varied, and so still offer new things to discover. Equally, Spain should be understood to be a country privileged with areas for growing crops of exceptional quality that can be used in all kinds of cuisines, not just traditional Spanish dishes.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career and why?

Stick to your niche. And stick with quality.

I have always remembered this because it is so tempting to broaden one’s mission to a point where one’s message is watered down and confuses people. The quality of food is subjective, however, so it is crucial to select well so that it’s trusted by customers.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you in your work? 

Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw at Zingerman’s because their business structure is inspired, fair and successful. They have built a community of businesses with managing partners who all buy in and share a company vision and culture. I have done my best to emulate that at Brindisa – it is a challenging ideal, however!

What ingredient can you not live without and why?

Cheese and dairy in all its forms. Cheeses for cheeseboards are forever fascinating and so reliant on variable elements – skills, terroir, milk quality, animal breeds, pasture, seasons, rennets, rinds … the list goes on. I also love cooking with curd, making gratins, sauces and savoury tarts.

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?

A notebook. Whenever I travel I have to write down all my ideas and thoughts. Sometimes they come to nothing, but it’s better safe then sorry!

Where is your favourite place to eat in London?

Llewelyn’s, Herne Hill. Nothing beats walking to and back home from a brilliant kitchen. Proximity to where I live is a winner for me. I love that it’s a local business with local young owners, the simple decor is refreshing, and I love the curved windows too. Its position by Herne Hill station means there are always people coming and going and you can be outdoors or indoors. Plus, the food and wine list are both excellent.

What do you like to do on a day off? 

Go for a long walk with the dogs on the South Downs and enjoy having no deadlines.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?

Woven textiles, fabric, handcrafted ceramics, handmade food knives and wooden spoons. I have collected them from across the world.

Brindisa Kitchen, Borough Market Kitchen, Winchester Walk, SE1 9AG