Rain, at the moment, comes exclusively in those fat, wobbly drops that contain half a gallon of water. Stand at the top of Tottenham Court Road being indecisive about what to do with an evening during a downpour, and you’ll be unhappy quickly. The person you’re with will get annoyed. The mood will turn darker than the sky.
Salvation, however, is nearby. In drier times you can saunter the short distance from Warren Street station to Honey & Co but if you’re stood in 2014 Summer RainÃ¢â€žÂ¢ and suddenly remember how close the place is, there’s a compulsion to get there in that undignified self-conscious half-run that signals you’ve got old.
This purely hypothetical scenario happened on a Tuesday, making it possible to get two seats in the window of the small but charming restaurant despite blundering in from the soaking pavement unannounced.
Honey & Co’s blue and white Moorish floor tiles are easy to slip on with the drenched crepe sole of a hipster shoe but they look pretty and the otherwise white room has an elegant simplicity. There’s only space for about 20 people so reservations are recommended, despite our good luck this time.
Now drying out with a drink, I allow myself to be smugly amused by the contrast of food from the hot climes of the Middle East with the sight of cars and people splashing through grey puddles outside. A friendly waitress makes sympathetic noises about our damp clothes and we each order the set menu for £30, which includes a luxury mezze to share as a starter.
The word’mezze’ reminds me of terrible picnics,’shitnics’ as they’re known, that consist of insipid offerings from the section of a supermarket aisle given the catch-all title’Dips and Nibbles’. Find a group of girls in Sainsburys on a hot day armed with three bottles of Pinot Grigio, talking about Ã¢â‚¬Å“getting some bits to pick at in the parkÃ¢â‚¬Â and you’ve found the food to which I refer.
The same food couldn’t be much more different at Honey & Co. Exactly what you get changes with every visit but roughly eight small dishes will arrive and none that I’ve had have ever tasted anything other than fantastic. This time there is falafel with tahini, fritters, kalamata olives, tabouleh, baba ganoush, hummus with warm pitta, radish salad, and little slivers of filo pastry filled with herbs and spinach. Most of the dishes are finely executed classics but there are always a few inventive surprises too.
Everything is excellent; sauces and garnishes only enhance the core of each plate. We fervently hop between them in order to remember the different flavours until everything has gone. Bland supermarket hummus and falafel will never taste worse after you’ve eaten here.
Much has been made by critics of the’love’ that goes into the cooking at Honey and Co and it’s easy to see why. The food isn’t complex in terms of technique or presentation, it just tastes very, very good. My main course of lamb shawarma is slow-cooked, soft, spicy lamb relaxing in a small earthenware pan with a drizzle of yoghurt and pomegranate seeds. There’s some warm pitta bread and a cabbage salad on the side for contrast. It’s gorgeous and comforting too – in a way that dishes at’fine dining’ restaurants rarely are.
Both Itamar and Sarit who own Honey & Co have worked for Ottolenghi, with Sarit doing a stint as his head of pastry. Her expertise shows itself in the nest of kadaif pastry that forms the base of the cold cheesecake that we share for pudding. Having had our first mouthfuls of sticky, buttery pastry with cream cheese drenched in pine and fir honey, topped with halved almonds and blueberries, the ensuing passive/aggressive fork joust for the remainder of the course is inevitable.
Love is not the same thing for everyone but a lot of people seem to think, me included, that this is it in gastronomic terms. Perhaps it’s better; the worst possible outcome is heartburn rather than heartbreak. I’ve eaten in plenty of restaurants in London since I moved here six years ago and this is currently my favourite. You should half-run to Honey & Co whether it’s raining or not.