There is a particular trend that is permeating the London dining scene like a contagion.
In the flurry of new openings, and novel and exotic twists on traditional gastronomies, a number of restaurateurs have become smitten with Spanish tapas, and have decided to exploit this style of cuisine for all its worth. Tapas are traditionally displayed on a menu in a long list, and served all at once, so diners can delight in dipping in and out of them with a few drinks as they please. Instead of serving a carefully structured plate of well-balanced complementary elements, the restaurants at fault are breaking the plates down into individual elements.
They call them “small plates”, and I detest them.
You’ll know that you’ve found yourself in this “small plate” trap when the waiter suggests that each person orders three, despite the fact that one is the cost of a normal large plate. Not only do they expand their profits substantially by doing this, but the effort required by the kitchen is significantly reduced. Chefs don’t need to bother about planning dishes when they can just make whatever the hell they like, call it another small plate and let the diner err when structuring their picky little meal. Oh, and these small plates seem to have a life of their own: you see, they can arrive according to their own whim and in any combination. At my most recent visit to a restaurant of this type, all vegetables were deemed unsuitable to be served with fish.
My rage against small plates had been boiling for several weeks when I decided to return to Honey & Co, where I knew my craving for a large plate could be fulfilled. Call me demanding, or even greedy, if you like. I’d been before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but sadly forgot to bring my camera. This time, however, I was armed. Itamar Srulovich and his wife Sarit Packer rule the roost at this tiny 30 cover Canaan. He’s ex- Ottolenghi - an almost guarantee of success - and the Ottolenghi influence is strongly evident in the cuisine. Décor is kept to a minimum, with stark white walls and patterned blue tiled floor forcing your eye greedily towards the focal countertop display of spiced and perfumed cakes. Despite the minimalism, there is no lack of atmosphere. Most people are so pleased to have acquired their 1.5 hour table slot that they exude an aura of excitement.
The menu is divided into starters and mains (hallelujah) – I plumped for spring salad of peas, courgettes, and warm manouri cheese with a lemon and saffron sauce. Crisp, and light with the nuttiness of the manouri and electric tang of citrus, the dish was very pleasant.
One dining companion went down the more obvious but inevitably delicious route of falafel served with a tabbouleh and tahini sauce – one of the most popular on the menu (the chefs undoubtedly roll falafel in their sleep).
The other opted for the braised artichoke with parsley za’atar and yoghurt dipping sauce.
This was rather a tame option as there only so much you can do to a whole artichoke in terms of flavour(read: very little), and so no matter how delicious the sauce the eating becomes tiresome. It resides alongside eating fish and quail on the bone in my list of things that I just don’t have time for. I can’t be bothered to fuss around with scraping a half centimetre of blandish artichoke flesh against the back of my teeth.
My main course was very good: a plate abounding with plump parcels (aka Menti) of burnt courgette and herb with olive oil braised broad beans and whipped feta, the latter adding a kick of saltiness to draw out the sweetness from the dumplings and green vegetables.
Despite the petit nature of the restaurant (even the waitresses are petite, needing to squeeze between the close-set tables), the kitchen at Honey & Co must go through roughly an entire field of mint every day. It resides proudly on almost every plate, and nor is its presence irrelevant – it lifts the earthier flavours into more summery tones, like for example, the shawarma of slow cooked lamb shoulder burnt pitta and goat’s yoghurt with amba mint and pomegranate. I’m not the greatest fan of lamb, but this dish convinced me that my prejudice was poorly founded.
The lamb was succulent, tender and sweet, and lifted to higher planes with the addition of juicy gems of pomegranate and the ubiquitous mint.
The only disappointment was my dining companion’s chicken makloobah with saffron rice and a lemon yoghurt sauce. Visually, the dish lacked the vibrant flair that every other possessed and was a little bland.
One dining companion went on to order the pink grapefruit and raspberry granita with yoghurt mousse and honeyed oat crisp. The flavours bounced nicely off each other but I found the granita a little too perfumed.
I’m also more inclined to a substantial dessert: I don’t particularly care for palate cleansers. If I’m going to sin, then I’ll sin properly. And there’s one vital way to do that at Honey & Co: the cheesecake with kadaif pastry and honey. Perhaps not the most beautiful of desserts, but more than made up for in flavour – the cheesecake is well balanced, creamy and contrasts perfectly with the crunchy, sticky tangled nest of kadaif.
Bold, well-balanced, vibrant, and generous, the food at Honey & Co is the perfect antidote to the small plate disease.
Suitable for: buisness lunches, casual dates, family, friends, vegetarians