youprotecting a London institution is no small feat. Despite only living on Warren Street for 10 years – a nod in London’s history – Honey & Co has slipped into the hearts of many foodies, largely because of its laid-back sparkle and always friendly. It wasn’t a shiny “smart jacket and long-time reservation” type of thing. You could show up at Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s little Middle Eastern restaurant any Tuesday at brunch time and they’d try to squeeze you in for a green shakshuka and merguez sausage rolls. Or for a few slices of sabich (roasted eggplant coated in fresh pitta). Sarit grew up in northern Israel; Itamar was born in Jerusalem. Sarit at one time led the pastry teams at Ottolenghi’s restaurants, while Itamar was head chef at the Notting Hill and Belgravia branches. Honey & Co was their fledgling solo project and London eagerly took part in the couple’s dinnertime meze feasts. My memories are of damp London nights mopping up hummus made with fresh broad beans and labneh with ramson leaf, or eating feta cheese seasoned with paprika.
The devil of Honey & Co was in the details: it wasn’t just falafel; they were fresh falafel on a seasoned tahini tablecloth with a fragrant Lebanese cucumber salad, and the chicken shish came with leafy freekeh and a lush pea and herb salad. Eating far more than expected was de rigueur, due to an unquantifiable orange blossom-scented bounty in the ambiance that prompted customers to order the feta and honey cheesecake. This is where high-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 a lot of meowing from fans, although a plan was quickly put in place to reopen at an alternative Bloomsbury home on Lamb’s Conduit Street just in face of the wonderful Noble Rot – a name all readers should have tucked away for a special occasion. Honey & Co and Noble Rot being within a blink of an eye of each other, that seems just fine; both are restaurants that have quietly become mainstays of the London food scene. Yet as I headed out for my first dinner at the brand new, slightly cooler and prettier Honey & Co, I was apprehensive. You cannot simply “move” a restaurant. The magic lies in a plethora of little things other than the food: the acoustics, the convergence of tables, the sounds of traffic, the location of the toilets, too much or not enough cooking smell, and so on. The owners can change places and serve the same dishes on the same plates, but the charm is somehow broken.
I shouldn’t have worried because on a warm July evening – the kind of weather that leaves the backs of knees wet – there was a fervent demand for spare seats as I sat enjoying a jug of tea ice.
The summer 2022 menu is one of their best. Warning: the small plates are heavy, so a diminutive-sounding “homemade pickle plate” was an abundance of dressed kohlrabi, pickled cucumber, beet and carrot, and kalamata olives. A peach salad with juicy, sweet fruit and goat cheese sprinkled with almonds was outstanding. Hummus is not just a crushed chickpea, but a container for a tangy green chili tatbila vinaigrette, topped with crispy, fried chickpeas.
If your appetite is small, you could really stop ordering there. But that’s not fun, is it? Why miss the crispy shoulder of lamb with feta and urfa butter vinaigrette that comes with a lush salad of arugula and mint and feels like it’s loading vitamin goodness straight into your face? Or a portion of crispy za’atar-encrusted potatoes on labneh, priced rather impressively at £13.50, but enough to feed two or three?
Yes, Honey & Co is a little different now, perhaps more grown up and formal, but the old beauty is there in spades. The service was warm and prompt, and when the food started to arrive, there were audible gasps about the attention to detail, as you can buy Honey & Co cookbooks until you’re blue at the face, but you’ll never make Yemeni falafel or tarama with pickled red onion and chopped egg like they’re served here.
Rejoice! The feta and honey cheesecake is always offered. However, I recommend the chocolate terrazzo cake, a stiff, shiny, wowish slice of three-layered chocolate cake served – the night I visited – with marzipan glaze which might be one of the best things I’ve ever had. ate this year. We discussed this ice cream for several days afterwards. It wasn’t even listed on the menu. Why would they hide it? Was it an impromptu invention? Will there be more? These things keep me up at night. There’s a lot 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, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Around £50 a head for dinner plus drinks and service.