Itamar Srulovich: “There is no such thing as Middle Eastern food”

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Itamar Srulovich on moving his Honey & Co Middle Eastern restaurant to Bloomsbury

Related tags: Honey & Co, Itamar Srulovich, Sarit Packer, Middle eastern cuisine, Chefs, London

One half of the husband and wife duo behind Honey & Co on the much-loved restaurant’s move to Bloomsbury and why he’s not comfortable with the term the group currently uses to define its food.

What was it like to say goodbye to Honey & Co’s original site in Fitzrovia?

We had been there for 10 years so it was emotional. It’s a special place for our team and many of our guests. But the building was sold as our lease ended and the new owners want to develop it into luxury student accommodation. It’s actually a big relief that the decision was taken out of our hands. 

But it was rather small... 

We only had 20 covers and the basement kitchen was tiny. In truth we outgrew the space in six months. But it wasn’t just the size that was the problem. The building was never meant to be a restaurant. There wasn’t the electrical capacity to have the oven and the air conditioning running at the same time and the water pressure was also completely inadequate. Worst of all, there was only one bathroom shared between the guests and the staff.

All your sites have been in Fitzrovia so far.Why the move to Bloomsbury? 

Sarit (Packer, Srulovich’s wife and business partner) and I were looking at a few nearby neighbourhoods but when we saw the Cigala site on Lamb’s Conduit Street we instantly knew it was the one for us. Bloomsbury is a diverse area with a real sense of identity and there are some great places to eat there, not least Noble Rot who are going to be overseeing our wine list. Hopefully we can add to the restaurant community there in our own small way. And we’re not deserting Fitzrovia. Honey & Smoke - our Middle Eastern grill house - and our deli are both moments away from the old Honey & Co site. 

Tell us about the new site

It’s about three times bigger than the original Honey & Co but front of house is divided into four smaller spaces so we will retain the sense of intimacy we are known for. We will have 50 covers inside and 12 outside and there will be far more space back of house. We have treated ourselves to a proper kitchen and we also have a big cold room, a prep room, an office, proper wine storage, a staff room and even a staff loo. It sounds silly as I know most restaurants have these things but for us it’s going to be true luxury. And best of all we have a dumbwaiter - at the original Honey & Co every single plate had to be run upstairs. We expect to open towards the end of May or maybe early June. 

How will the new Honey & Co differ from the original Honey & Co? 

It’s hard to say at the moment. Restaurants have their own life and respond to their own surroundings. But our first instinct is to keep as much as we can of the original that people know and love including our falafel, seasonal salads and our honey cheesecake. We will be able to offer a larger menu so can offer a mix of the dishes that we are known for with new things. We will also look to bring back some of the more space and time intensive dishes - including stuffed vegetables and dumplings - that we had to drop when the original restaurant got busy. We will also be offering some big sharing dishes including whole chickens and whole cuts of lamb. 

Honey-and-&-Co-pair

Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer launched Honey & Co close to Warren Street tube in 2012

You’re going to need a lot more staff. How are you finding recruitment?

Sarit and I are lucky because we have a strong and loyal core team that’s been with us for a long time both in the kitchen and front of house. But I won’t lie. The prospect of staffing up is scary in the current climate. But we know we are able to teach people how to cook our food. It helps that all of our recipes are well-documented due to our various cookbooks and cookery columns. What we need to communicate to people is the sensibility. Middle Eastern food is very different to European cuisine. It has its own set of ingredients and techniques.

How have attitudes to Middle Eastern cuisine changed since Honey & Co has been open? 

There is more curiosity but there is also more understating. And it is of course much more prevalent. But really there is no such thing as Middle Eastern food. It’s a big, difficult to define area with a lot of distinct cuisines. Sarit and I both come from Tel Aviv so there is a focus on the home cooking of the various different Middle Eastern communities that have ended up there. We have also travelled a lot around the area to meet people and understand their culture and document their recipes. The cuisine in this part of the world is really special, it should be celebrated and highlighted more than it is. 

Are you comfortable with the term Middle Eastern food?  

It’s the term we use but I would not say I am comfortable with it. It’s something we think about a lot because it’s not accurate by any means. But equally we can’t think of anything better to describe what we offer. We’re certainly open to suggestions. 

Related topics: Restaurant

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