At Berber & Q Shawarma Bar, Middle Eastern flavors mingle freely.
At Berber & Q Shawarma Bar, Middle Eastern flavors mingle freely.

Josh Katz's cooking is unapologetically inauthentic. Where one influence—American barbecue, for example—ends and another—Israeli, Turkish and Moroccan—begins is all a bit murky. It’s a big part of what makes it so exciting. “I wanted to bring a lot of different strands together,” he says of the cooking at his two grill-centric Middle Eastern restaurants in London.

When I join him for lunch at Berber & Q Shawarma Bar—where neighborhood bar meets Middle Eastern rotisserie—those strands weave a delicious cacophony of textures and flavors. Oyster and shiitake mushroom kebabs glazed with date molasses, porcini tahini and pickled leeks. Lamb mounded with tahini, pine nuts, chili, pumpkin seeds, cardamom, cumin and cloves.

But the standout is the cauliflower shawarma, a wild tangle of flavors. Whole cauliflower, blanched then grilled, slathered in butter and spiced with lemon, garlic, cilantro, cinnamon, sumac, cardamom and more. Over it all, a slosh of tahini, pomegranate molasses, pine nuts, green chili, parsley and pickled onions. The result is simply one of the best things I’ve ever eaten—creamy, spicy, brightly acidic, sweet and smoky all at once.

It was a dish I’d encounter in various forms during a weeklong exploration of the city’s Middle Eastern food scene. At the Barbary, where the menu reflects the open-flame cooking of the trade routes of the Mediterranean Sea, the cauliflower is cut into chunky florets, then steamed and fried crisp before being tossed with tahini, red chilies, garlic and olive oil. On top—grated tomatoes for a fresh, bright contrast. Stunning.

At Milk Street, we’ve done whole-roasted cauliflower many times and topped it many ways. But never with such a riot of delicious contrasts. We decided the dish was worth a revisit using a blend of the approaches we enjoyed in London.

For our version, we steam-roast a whole head until tender, then smear it with a mix of tahini, lemon juice, cumin, sumac, cardamom and cinnamon before broiling it to caramelized richness. We then top it with grated tomatoes, a garlic-chili oil, pine nuts and parsley. The result—an intensely well-traveled cauliflower.