Packed elbow-to-elbow tight, the tables at London’s Honey & Co. force intimacy. With your food. With your neighbors. With your neighbors’ food. You don’t care. You stake out your postage stamp of the blue-and-white tiled floor, pour a glass of Chateau Musar—a vibrant red from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley—and surrender to the swirl of nutty-herbal sweet-savory of what Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich humbly call New Middle Eastern cooking.
The ingredients are familiar, but the combinations are fresh. Falafel with sumac and a tangy cabbage slaw; labneh with roasted celery root; shrimp with orange, tomato and cardamom. The husband-wife team, who moved to London from Israel in 2004, are a lodestone of the city’s rambunctiously delicious Middle Eastern scene, where regions and flavors are borrowed and blurred in ways that hearken back while also moving firmly forward.
“People take it and try to rework it to modern sensibilities,” Packer says. “You have no idea how authentic it is, but it is fantastic. This is very London.”
The couple’s roasted eggplant with barbecued tahini “crust,” for example. Charred eggplant is a Middle Eastern staple. Ditto a drizzle of tahini. But in Packer and Srulovich’s hands, that drizzle becomes a richly caramelized topping that crowns a fork-tender eggplant half. Topped with fresh chives, flaked sea salt and tangy pomegranate seeds, the result is outrageously good, a chaos of flavors and textures that somehow harmonize.
It’s an honest reflection of Israeli cuisine—drawn as it is from the diaspora of Jewish cooking—but also a solution to London produce that is too often a poor facsimile of the profoundly flavorful ingredients back home. Bold seasonings, deep charring, fresh herbs, a mix of high-and-low acidic and savory—Packer and Srulovich employ it all to elevate the everyday.
Back at Milk Street, we loved this approach. We tasted the couple’s influence on similar dishes across the city and created our own that—true to their style—drew inspiration from several. The base very much is Honey & Co.—eggplant halved and roasted, then topped with tahini spiked with garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce and (easier and bolder than the seeds) pomegranate molasses. A few additional minutes under the broiler browned and crisped it.
Other versions top the eggplant with everything from nuts and seeds to tzatziki and tomatoes, and almost always ample herbs. We settled on cooling tzatziki, as well as pistachios for sweet-nutty crunch, a mix of dill, mint and parsley, and a finishing splash of pomegranate molasses. New Middle Eastern, indeed.