Five minutes with Honey & Co.’s Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer
Restaurant Honey & Co. has been a hit with Londoners since it first opened in 2012, where it built a steady following amongst lovers of Middle Eastern food. Menu highlights include shakshuka and sabich at breakfast, Yemeni falafel and aubergine shawarma at lunch and dinner, and a knock-out dessert menu centring around the signature dish – Sarit’s honey & feta cheesecake on kadaif.
Now in a new location, the team are open for breakfast lunch and dinner on Lambs Conduit Street in Bloomsbury. We caught up with the owners Itamar and Sarit to find out about the new restaurant, how the cost of living crisis is affecting them, and what their desert island food would be.
What’s your very first memory of food?
Itamar: My brother and I had a little toaster oven that we would cook with, I’m not sure how we came out unscathed, but we were always throwing food in there.
Sarit: Raiding the pantry at a friend’s grandma’s house. Somehow I found myself alone in a cupboard stacked with rows and rows of jars of pickles and preserves. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and, though I was too young to read the labels, I could identify the strawberry jam straight away. Shockingly, when I think back, I stuck my hand right in the jar.
What’s the first recipe you properly learned to make?
Sarit: We were allowed to mess around in the kitchen from a young age. I remember rolling ginger cookies out, feeling the silky dough on your hands. I got really into baking when I was around 12, when my sister brought home a pastry book.
What do you like to do to relax?
Itamar: We’re really into ceramics and take classes at Morley College in South London. It became a real obsession over lockdown and we ended up buying a wheel and kiln so that we could continue from home. It’s very mindful – you can’t be looking at your phone when you’ve got clay-covered hands, and you have to concentrate on what’s on the wheel. Sarit made a lot of the ceramics in the new place, including the coffee cups. They’ve already started to disappear, which is definitely a compliment.
What’s the one dish you can’t live without?
Itamar: Falafel, but it must be fresh out of the fryer and straight into a pitta with plenty of tahini and pickles.
What ingredient would you take to a desert island with you?
Sarit: Cucumbers, the tiny Lebanese ones that are packed with flavour. I love the crunch, they’re great for snacking, dipping and pickling – I’ll need to find a jar for pickling on the island…
Itamar: Tahini, though only the best. When we opened Honey & Co. ten years ago, we spent a long time trying to get hold of good tahini in this country and testing out different brands. For us Al Yaman is the best of all we tried and the one we get through buckets and buckets of every day in our restaurants. It goes with everything.
You can have a one-off dinner party on your island… who would you invite?
Itamar: A table of food royalty. The matriarchs; Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey and Fay Maschler; the late-great AA Gill; and throw Max Halley in there to spice things up.
Sarit: And Beyonce.
What has been the most formative experience of your careers?
Sarit: Publishing our first book was a real moment for us. A cookbook deal was not on our radar at all and then one of our regulars turned out to be a publisher and proposed it. It changed everything for us in terms of having a writing career as well as restaurants. It opened up the world of books, magazines, broadcasting, podcasts.
Itamar: It’s often out of the kitchen that we’ll learn the most. We’re lucky to have travelled far and wide in search of delicious food and new (to us) ways of cooking and these experiences have really shaped and informed the way we cook. Most recently, for our book Chasing Smoke, we travelled to Turkey, Greece, Israel, Jordan and Egypt to explore cooking over fire. Seeing generations of the same family cooking in the same way, using simple tools and the best produce, is quite something.
It’s 8pm, you’ve just got home. What are you rustling up for tea?
Sarit: Itamar is the master of the fridge raid…
Itamar: As chefs we’ll often get home late to an empty fridge. But green shakshuka is the secret recipe to have up your sleeve for these occassions. Take any greens you have wallowing in the bottom of the fridge – chard, wilted spinach, the tops of carrots or radishes, stew in olive oil, add some eggs on top. Honestly it’s the best dinner and never quite the same each time.
Is there anything about the food industry that bugs you? We’d like to hear your thoughts…
Sarit: Like most places, at the moment we’re suffering with a lack of staff. There’s a huge shortage of front of house and kitchen staff in the UK at the moment. It’s hard to see how it’s going to resolve.
Itamar: There’s a huge stigma around hospitality as an industry. People think that it’s not a career. In Europe, a lifelong career as a chef, restaurant manager or maitre’d is highly respected. We’re missing that in this country, and suffering for it. The thing that makes me so, so upset is when hospitality workers are not classified as ‘skilled workers’.
Can you tell us a bit more about the new Honey & Co. that has just opened in Bloomsbury?
Sarit: After ten years on Warren Street, we’ve moved Honey & Co. to Lamb’s Conduit Street. This restaurant feels like the perfect continuation of everything we built on Warren Street. The same welcoming feel, the same delicious, generous Middle Eastern food that people have always come to us for. Now, we can just do all of that from a bigger kitchen, in a bigger space, for more people.
Itamar: We knew as soon as we saw the site on Lamb’s Conduit Street that it was the one for us, and we rarely agree on things. The space on the corner is perfect, and the neighbourhood is so warm and friendly.
What was it like moving locations?
Sarit: Ten years is a long time in restaurant years. We were very happy for a long time in our original location but there were always things we couldn’t do there. Whether it was not having enough electricity, enough space, enough time, enough ovens. It was bitter sweet to move. We designed the new space with all these things in mind, which means we can bring back a lot of the more complex and time-consuming dishes that we love to produce, we have air-con in the kitchens, which of course the team loves, and we have more space for all our old and new guests.
Itamar: It still feels very surreal for me. I’m sure I will wake up in six months or a year and have some raw emotions about the old place, but right now we are so excited for the new space and just working to make it a success. We were really worried about losing the magic by moving.
What is one current menu item you are most excited about?
Itamar: Our menu is very seasonal, so we have a lot of Honey & Co. dishes that come back around every year – we are always joyful for their return. Right now that means gorgeous peaches with goats’ cheese and orange blossom, super green Yemeni falafel, and watermelon, prawn & feta salad. This time of year is amazing for fresh produce and we really make the most of it.
Sarit: Right now, our chocolate terrazzo cake is getting a lot of love. With layers of chocolate, nuts, tahini… all the good things. Also of course we have to mention our signature cheesecake, which we’re well known for!
How is the restaurant coping with the cost of living crisis? How do you think it will affect you and your customers?
Itamar: Everything is going up – the cost of ingredients, staff, utilities, they’re all more expensive than a year ago and it will eventually have a knock-on effect on our prices. It’s worrying when we know these things are still set to go up even more over winter.
Sarit: It’s very worrying, we hope the industry will survive. We’re very lucky that we have a very loyal customer base who have supported us over the ups and downs of the last ten years.
Do you have any aspirations and dreams you’ve yet to fulfil?
Itamar: We’re always dreaming about what’s next – a bookshop, a cookery school, a magazine – all things that add to the whirlwind of Honey & Co. Ultimately, I think we’d both like to end up somewhere warm, a simple island restaurant with rooms, local produce, simple cooking, good wine on tap and all our favourite people around us.
What advice would you give a young person trying to start out a career in food?
Itamar: If you’re serious about the kitchen, start as a KP or prep chef and learn on the job. You’ll pick up so much just being in the kitchen. Seek out the kitchens you like the sound of, the food you want to eat, reach out to them, there are so many opportunities out there right now.
Sarit: Remember, you’ll get out what you put in. Hard work pays off and if you want something badly, you are the one to make it happen.
To book a table at Honey & Co., head to their website.
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