I'm a sucker for Levantine cuisine. I know my sumac from my dukkah thanks to my Yotam Ottolenghi devotee parents and boyfriend, plus religious reading of Yotam's weekly Guardian column. I'm also a big fan of the great man's delis and Nopi, and last year branched out to try Berber & Q, whose cauliflower was easily one of the best things I ingested in 2016. When choosing where to surprise B on our anniversary last month, Honey & Co was the first and only place I had in mind.
Honey & Co is a teeny joint run by husband and wife team Itamar and Sarit. It's blessedly tucked away from the tumult of Euston Road, shielded by one street and its distinctive blue and white awnings. Its diminutive size and incredible popularity mean that it's pretty hard to secure a table here - booking is essential. There are a couple of walk-in spots by the window but be warned, you may have to wait a couple of hours if you swing by around dinner time. But whether you plan ahead or take your chances on the night, you should do whatever it takes to get a table here.
Eating at Honey & Co is like dropping in at a good friend's place for a chat and maybe some tea and cake, who then benevolently rustles you up a sublime home-cooked dinner. The décor is simple and clean, with one wall dominated by preserves and granolas, looking for all the world like you've accidentally wandered into a well-stocked pantry. Also, as I've mentioned, this place is small. There's only ten covers, so the restaurant isn't chaotically loud and a meal here feels undisturbed and intimate. This is the kind of place that you can comfortably rock up to with just a book for company, as several diners around us did. Also, the waitresses are frankly the type of people I want to be friends with - one girl, all smiles, kindly explained Purim and the symbolism of the very cute hamantaschen on the counter for me. I've only picked up such a relaxed, homely vibe at one other place - Le Zie in Lecce. That restaurant has a very special place in my heart, so even before I'd eaten a bite here I was in a good mood.
And the bites here are astonishingly delicious. B and I were drawn in by the promises of the set menu: a magical array of mezze that threatened to tip over the edge of our little table, followed by our choice of main. A slightly pricier set menu includes dessert, but still full from an early anniversary breakfast at Duck & Waffle, we opted for the non-dessert menu. Of course we still shared a pudding - we'd be remiss if we didn't here...
Among our cornucopia of mezze were the usual suspects: falafel, hummus, pickles and kalamata olives plus some more exciting plates such as a quince salad, tahini dipping sauce sprinkled with sumac, marinated aubergines, and much more. For me, the highlights were:
An incredibly creamy, smooth hummus begging to be mopped up with the three varieties of bread that came to the table (to be replenished on request). My favourite was the flatbread, though the spongy milk bread also made for a good conduit for the accompanying dish of grassy green olive oil.
This savoury-sweet poached quince salad with curd cheese, lamb's lettuce and honeyed hazelnuts. I've never had quince other than in the cheese companion context, but was delighted with this salad, which was sweet, light and incredibly moreish with a subtle chilli kick. You can order it as a small plate on the main menu, something I'll probably do on my next visit. I think this is a perfect spring dish and can imagine trying to replicate it for a dinner party in the garden.
Warm mushrooms with thinly sliced preserved lemon. These had a lovely meaty texture and sang out with umami. I've never had the patience (or organisation) to preserve lemons in the past, but after tasting these I reckon I'll have to make them a summer project.
Bouikos, little Balkan cheesy pastries, which came to the table warm and were guzzled straight away.
And so on to the mains. This is where I was really reminded of Nopi (which I wrote about here) - and no wonder, as Sarit, former pastry chef at Ottolenghi, was also executive head chef at Nopi. B, who was addicted to lentils in all their forms when I met him, opted for this hearty lentil stew with burnt aubergine, tahini, zehoug, scorched egg yolk and sfinj bread, the perfect vessel for mopping up the last of the wintry March weather.
My choice was this roasted mauve aubergine with a barbecued tahini crust, jeweled rice salad and lime. The tahini was fudgy and lent the dish an unexpected heaviness, offset by the wealth of juicy pomegranate seeds spilling across the plate like a recently unearthed trove of red rubies. It's this kind of beautiful dish that I'm sure tempted Persephone to nibble on the pomegranate seeds in the Underworld. Speaking of temptation and restraint, you may have noticed that this is an entirely vegetarian meal. B and I have been trying to cut down on our meat and fish intake over the last few months, and although we definitely won't say no to meat on special occasions, we've been making an effort to eat less of it at home - and haven't been missing it that much. Anyway, this aubergine was so filling that regretfully I couldn't finish it (though admittedly I didn't feel as guilty as I might leaving scraps of chicken or pork behind). It was a good thing that I reserved a bit of tummy space, as I'd been advised by our waitress to save myself for dessert...
The much-hyped 'cheesecake': a honeyed mound of creamy kadafi cheese sprinkled with baby basil, blueberries and roasted almonds perched atop a bird's nest of baklava-like vermicelli. We ate this with two spoons (sharing is caring, after all). I really can't do justice to this with words alone - all I can say is that it's totally worth feeling like you need to go and lie down to digest, all the while gently moaning and convinced you won't eat for days.
25a Warren Street
London W1T 5LZ