|Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East|
I wrote about Honey & Co the restaurant back in March 2013. I mentioned "the pavement stumblers". People like me caught out by the dip in the pathway a moment after my attention was drawn to the eye-catching display of cakes in the window. Now I know the cakes were Honey & Co's PR campaign. It proved a fantastically effective advertising tool for a restaurant being created on a shoestring budget, and already there's a book.
It's not unusual for a book to grow from the seed of a restaurant. Most will start off telling the reader about the restaurant, the author, the inspiration and philosophy. Few will tell you how the owners fell in love over oven-fresh burek and pigeon stuffed with pine nut rice. How they sneered at each others introductions to "Haifa's best falafel" and "Jerusalem's best falafel", each secretly enjoying both. Few will introduce you to the staff, from the loveable front-of-house Rachael to "sweet, funny" Carlos the kitchen porter. Fewer still will feel a tale of a "big-hearted broad-shouldered London cabbie and an industrial mixer worth telling. Then there's the habit of attaching names and personal stories to familiar faces. These are the things that are important to Itamar Srulovich (former Head Chef at Ottolenghi) and Sarit Packer (former Head of Pastry at Ottolenghi and Executive Chef at Nopi), owners of Honey & Co the restaurant and, now, authors. After a frantic 6 weeks of work they walked into their little restaurant kitchen for the first time and chose to preserve lemons. They put the jars on the little shelf in the restaurant "to place our hope in a fortunate future".
I wanted to do this review without being influenced by my visits to the restaurant, but even before I finished the "Welcome" page I knew this was going to be impossible. Itamar explains my difficulty: "We wanted to write this book to capture the essence of who we are - not just the two of us but also our little restaurant and the hive it is, the people we work with, the people we feed and the customers who became friends, and the tasty, easy, homey food that brings us all together." This book fulfills the promise of that sentence. Sometimes you aren't sure who's 'voice' you are 'hearing' but that matters not a jot.
They start with a few base recipes such as Sweet spice mix and Baharat, a savoury spice mix. Neither has a massively long list of ingredients and the alluring photograph of spices makes you want to get roasting and grinding. Mezze takes up a large part of the book: raw, cured, canned, pickled, breads, dips, spreads, purees, baked, fried and cracked - from sweet Uri buri prawns (with a sweetly romantic association) and rich pastry Borekitas to spicy Turkish Kisir. Salads of Beetroot & plums in a rose & walnut dressing and an aromatic plate of Poached quince with curd cheese and honeyed hazelnuts are followed by dishes such as Lamb Siniya, like a Middle-Eastern shepherd's pie; a festive tagine Madfunia; Slow-cooked lamb shoulder with plums and roses, needing only a mound of rice or couscous to serve; Octopus in meshwiya sauce with celery salad and Cauliflower 'shawarma' which makes use of that Baharat spice mix.
I've already mentioned my love of Honey & Co's cakes and here you will find recipes for Cherry, pistachio and coconut cake and vibrant Saffron & lemon syrup cake. Amongst the dessert recipes I know I'll make is Marzipan & almond cakes with roasted plums, and their sumptuous signature dish of Feta & honey cheesecake on a kadaif pastry base.
|Aubergine Sabich - Photo: Saffron Strands|
Recipe: Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East
So many recipes I really want to make, but what have I tried? First up, Aubergine Sabich. As the authors say, "there is nothing sophisticated here". It's an easy recipe, just good ingredients, freshly prepared and pepped-up with a good dressing but everything comes together deliciously. There's really no excuse for not making your own pitta bread here. I've never felt an affinity with yeast so choosing to make pitta was a deliberate test of the instructions. My hand was held all the way and the oven yielded beautiful domes of puffed-up bread. I now have an urgent need to make Bukhari bread and Milk bun. Goodness, I've become a bread baker at last!
|White chocolate, pine nuts, olive oil & candied lemon zest - Photo: Saffron Strands|
Recipe: Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East
Next came a dessert of White chocolate, pine nuts, olive oil & candied lemon zest. I chose to make this dish because I, too, generally,"see no point in white chocolate" but was seduced by the assurance that this would be wonderful, and so it was. It's a bit rich, but I was warned. Again, the instructions were really clear and it was a pleasure to make. My version is tinged green due to the particular unfiltered oil used. The flavour was delicious.
Each section of this book is lightly spiced with just the right amount of anecdote and memory. It's blindingly obvious that hearts and souls and a great deal of love have gone into it. That's not something I come across too often in a cookbook. It also made me laugh out loud more than once. Photographs by Patricia Niven capture perfectly the warmth of the place, food and the owners. And if you're wondering about those falafels they're both in here; Jerusalem-style for Itamar and Haifa-style for Sarit, plus a Yemeni-style one for family roots.
Book courtesy of Salt Yard Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton