When a close friend announced that she was about to spend several months in and out of University College Hospital, London, undergoing stem cell replacement, I was able to offer her one crumb of non-medical comfort: she and any visitors would be just round the corner from Honey & Co. in Warren Street.
Honey & Co. is a recently opened small café and restaurant where I have enjoyed numerous good meals. These have ranged from a cappuccino with a milk bun in the morning to carrot, butternut and tarragon fritters with a yoghurt dip, or a chicken tagine with chestnuts, raisins and date molasses for lunch. Invariably this would be followed by cold cheesecake, curly Kadaif pastry and honey. Other meals have included a lamb shawarma with pomegranates; a fillet of sea bream with a fragrant tomato sauce; and a veal shank sofrito with quince.
I have sat outside and enjoyed a cup of Turkish coffee. I have bought homemade jams and small jars of mixed spices ground on the premises, which add a distinctive flavour to stews and casseroles. I have also purchased several of its excellent cakes and resisted the temptation to pass them off as my own creations.
The credit for all of the above, and for transforming what was an unprepossessing Italian restaurant, goes to husband-and-wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer. After meeting in their native Israel, the couple have spent the past eight years cooking in various London restaurants.
Packer had graduated to become head chef at Nopi, working for the couple’s mentors, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Srulovich had left behind the world of professional kitchens and was cooking for private clients while searching for almost two years for a restaurant he and his wife could call their own. Their new home in Warren Street is in an exceptionally quiet part of town that, while not lacking for cafés and pubs, has boasted few restaurants of note.
What the duo had in mind was a “posh kebab place”, as they put it, somewhere close to their home in south London. That they have ended up with a Middle Eastern café close to north London both ascribe to the charm of the location, which in turn dictated what they should cook. But as I spoke to them I came to appreciate that, as always when talking to any husband-and-wife team, there are inevitably two sides to every story – mainly, in their case, over the details of their restaurant’s very effective and inexpensive transformation. (Even a few minutes in Honey & Co. can feel like a sojourn in the Middle East.)
A shelf by the front window holds cakes and bags of crystallised cedro, the large lemon-like fruit from the Mediterranean. Another holds jars of jam (of which Packer told me proudly she has sold more than 1,000 in six months) and preserved lemons. Hanging across a small window behind the bar are half-a-dozen metal tea pots from Jerusalem, while down the stairs a tiled floor and a panoply of plants continue the pretence that a warm sun may be shining overhead.
All this has cost £30,000 – half the original budget. While it was a huge advantage to take over a former restaurant with a kitchen, they have managed to achieve so much for so little by doing almost everything themselves. “We bought a lot on eBay and second hand,” Packer explained, “and when we had tracked down the furniture, Itamar brought it back on the Tube.” This included a banquette that they then reupholstered themselves. “The most expensive single items were the new tiled floor and having to pay the sign writer to put the sign above the café,” she added.
In establishing Honey &Co. the couple have created not only another expression of Middle Eastern cooking, but also what is obviously now a highly popular rendezvous for all those who live and work nearby. The immediate challenge, now that the restaurant is open for two sittings on Thursday and Friday nights, is how to structure the evening menu to the same effect.
Honey & Co. seats no more than 20 but has already repaid its initial investment. Both Srulovich and Packer appreciate that on top of the continued pleasure of cooking, the biggest change in their professional lives has been the opportunity to talk to their customers and watch them coming back for more. “That,” Packer said emphatically, “is the most fun.”
Honey & Co.
25a Warren Street
London W1T 5LZ
020 7388 6175