Uprooting a London institution is no small task. Despite living on Warren Street a mere 10 years – a blink in London’s history – Honey & Co had snuck its way into many food-lovers’ hearts, largely because of its casual, ever-affable brilliance. It wasn’t a “smart jacket and longstanding reservation” type of brilliant. You could pitch up to Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s small Middle Eastern restaurant any given Tuesday at brunch time and they’d try to squeeze you in for green shakshuka and merguez sausage rolls. Or for a few rounds of sabich (roasted aubergine smeared on to fresh pitta). Sarit grew up in northern Israel; Itamar was born in Jerusalem. Sarit, at one stage, headed the pastry teams for Ottolenghi’s restaurants, while Itamar was head chef at the Notting Hill and Belgravia branches. Honey & Co was their fledgling solo project and London took to the couple’s dinner-time meze feasts avidly. My memories are of humid London nights mopping up hummus made with fresh broad beans and ramson-leaf labneh, or eating paprika-seasoned feta.
Honey & Co’s devil was in the detail: this wasn’t just falafel; they were fresh falafel on a seasoned slick of tahini with a fragrant Lebanese cucumber salad, and the chicken shish came with a verdant freekeh and a lush pea and herb salad. Eating far more than you intended was de rigueur, on account of an unquantifiable orange-blossom-scented largesse in the ambience that foxed customers into ordering the feta and honey cheesecake. This is where full-fat Philadelphia meets double cream, icing sugar and feta and sits heroically on a kadaif pastry nest.
When Honey & Co Warren Street announced it was closing there was much mewling from fans, although a plan was quickly in place to reopen in an alternative Bloomsbury home, on Lamb’s Conduit Street, directly opposite the marvellous Noble Rot – a name all readers should have stashed for a special occasion. Honey & Co and Noble Rot being within winking distance of each other feels wholly correct; they’re both restaurants that have quietly become stalwarts of the London dining scene. Still, as I set off for my first dinner at the all-new, somewhat fresher and prettier Honey & Co, I had trepidations. You can’t just “move” a restaurant. The magic is in a plethora of small things other than food: the acoustics, the convergence of tables, traffic noises, the location of the loos, too much or too little cooking odour, and on and on. Proprietors can move locations and serve the same dishes on the same plates but the spell is somehow broken.
I shouldn’t have worried because on a warm July evening – the sort of weather that leaves the back of your knees damp – the demand for spare seats was fervent as I sat enjoying a jug of iced tea.
The summer 2022 menu is one of their best. Beware: the small plates are hefty, so a diminutive-sounding “house pickle plate” was an abundance of dressed kohlrabi, pickled cucumber, beetroot and carrot and kalamata olives. A peach salad with juicy, sweet fruit and goat’s cheese strewn with almonds was remarkable. The hummus isn’t merely squished chickpea, but a vessel for a pungent green chilli tatbila dressing, topped with crisp, deep-fried chickpeas.
If your appetite is small, one could really stop ordering there. But that’s not fun, is it? Why miss the crispy lamb shoulder with feta and urfa butter dressing that comes with a lush rocket and mint salad and feels like loading vitamin-powered goodness directly into your face? Or a serving of crisp za’atar-encrusted potatoes on labneh, which was priced at a rather eye-popping £13.50, but was enough to feed two or three?
Yes, Honey & Co is a little different now, perhaps more grownup and formal, but the old loveliness is there in spades. Service was warm and prompt, and when the food began to arrive, there were audible gasps over the attention to detail, because you can buy Honey & Co recipe books until you’re blue in the face, but you’ll never make Yemeni falafel or taramasalata with pickled red onion and chopped egg quite like they are served here.
Rejoice! The feta and honey cheesecake is still on offer. However, I recommend the chocolate terrazzo cake, a slice of stiff, glossy, wowish triple-chocolate layered gateau served – on the evening I visited – with a marzipan ice-cream that could be one of the greatest things I’ve eaten this year. We discussed this ice-cream for several days afterwards. It wasn’t even billed on the menu. Why would they hide it? Was it an impromptu invention? Will there be more of it? These things keep me awake at night. There’s a lot of things to worry about in life right now. I prefer to focus on my stomach.
Honey & Co, 54 Lamb’s Conduit St, London WC1N 3LW. 020 7388 6175, honeyandco.co.uk. Tuesday-Saturday, 9.30am-10pm. Around £50 a head for dinner, plus drinks and service.
July 15, 2022 at 04:52PM Grace Dent