These are strange and difficult times for the hospitality industry, with restaurants and cafés heeding government advice to close their doors during the Covid-19 pandemic. While this means that our dining lives are currently confined to messy home kitchens, this hasn’t stopped me from reliving my (formerly taken for granted) restaurant experiences – quite the opposite.
Procrastination is now defined by drooling daydreams about extortionate weekend brunches, gastropub grub, and those meals that manage to transport you across the world from their central London bases. I could, of course, keep these food memories to myself, but where’s the fun in that?
During this period of isolation, I’ll be looking back at my dining experiences and sharing them here. Some of these will be from an age ago – some dishes mentioned therefore may no longer feature on their menus – but it’s arguably all the more impressive when a meal sticks with you for that long.
Once this is all over, I have no doubt that restaurants will be packed with people, full of glee at the opportunity to eat out again amongst strangers. The activity of dining out might be on hold for the time being, but it’s by no means extinct. Here’s hoping the silver lining will be a far greater appreciation for the industry than ever before.
To kick it off, I’ve been reminiscing about Honey & Smoke, the Middle Eastern grill outpost located a stone’s throw from the husband-and-wife duo’s first venture, Honey & Co. The name alone gives a mouthwatering clue to the flavours on the menu, taking you from Fitzrovia to the grill houses of Jerusalem and Istanbul. In any other circumstances, the restaurant would have been a fantastic stand-in for this period of no overseas travel.
Inside, Mondrian-style block colour walls are paired with more Middle Eastern features, including high ceilings, Moorish blue tiles and unpolished rose-coloured arches framed by pot plants. Rather unexpected, and at odds with the upscale food and prices, are the colour coordinated plastic chairs which give the room a more casual cafeteria feel. It fits with the sharing plate ethos, but doesn’t do wonders for comfort.
Instead, comfort comes in the lashings of tahini, sprinklings of pomegranate and spice blends on the seasonally changing menu. It’s the perfect length, with a selection of mezze dishes and larger grill plates. If, like me, you struggle to narrow down your order, the set menu does the work for you.
Start with a mezze platter to share, filled with the likes of zingy melon and cucumber salad, falafel with yoghurt sauce, and silky baba ghanoush, followed by a grill of your choosing for £36.50 – a wise move considering a single mezze plate is priced at £9.50 while the grills alone cost up to £26.
When it comes to the main plates, I rarely think about aubergine without a flashback to the restaurant’s smoky charred number marinated in chilli and garlic and topped with tahini and burnt yolk – the chunky sesame lavoush on the side is a fitting accompaniment, retaining its crispiness when dipped into the creamy centre. Other enticing dishes include chargrilled veggie plates, barbecued meats, and whole grilled fish with scatterings of pine nuts.
Then there’s dessert, and the signature honey and feta cheesecake takes the crown in this department. Originally created at sister restaurant Honey & Co, the dessert doesn’t resemble the New York cheesecake slice. Instead, you’ll be presented with a large dollop of creamy cheese resting on a kadaif pastry base – a sweet bed of crispy noodles – topped with berries, nuts and a drizzling of honey syrup.
The restaurant is a popular spot, and tables can be hard to come by under normal circumstances. If you find yourself in this situation, the chic bar at the front of the restaurant is a great alternative to table service, with the opportunity to order delicacies alongside inventive cocktails – think Middle Eastern mojitos (a moshiko) and raspberry and rose bellinis.
Honey & Smoke has also jumped on the brunch bandwagon, replacing conventional smashed avocado with shakshuka, while Lahooh pancakes with preserved lemon mascarpone, poached rhubarb and blood orange seem like a welcome substitute for ubiquitous American-style ones. Looks like my weekends are sorted once lockdown is lifted.
216 Great Portland St, London W1W 5QW; honeyandco.co.uk