Let's Eat

Hard at work with my honey


I cannot share a kitchen with my husband. Even so much as toasting bread can end in tears.

If domestic kitchens are high-stress environments, what must the heat be like in a professional setting?

One husband and wife in perfect culinary harmony are Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, co-owners of the tiny, Middle Eastern restaurant Honey & Co.

At the start of this month, the pair celebrated the second anniversary of the widely acclaimed, 35 cover, Fitzrovia eatery - and are still smiling.

I meet them over coffee (for them) and a stickily delicious peanut butter and strawberry mini loaf cake and tea for me.

It is a simple space - plain white walls, blue and white Moroccan tiled floor, and only their colourful cakes and jars of preserves for decoration.

While Srulovich admits they may bicker from time to time at work - "disagreeing is part of life" - they have happily managed to divide the work between them.

"We have different characters, but work well together as we also have differing skills," smiles Packer.

Packer excels as a baker, creating the attractive cakes and pastries displayed in their window, which they have described as "bait" with which to entice customers when they opened, having no money for more sophisticated PR.

Srulovich's area is meat, fish and savoury dishes, and in the early days, when they were short of waiting staff, it was he who emerged from their subterranean kitchen to "mess up the bookings, mess up the orders and mess up the till".

In the dining room, Srulovich is a relaxed host, teasing and joking with diners. The more reserved Packer is happy to stay out of sight.

"Itamar is better with people - he has quite a presence. I like to work and not chat so much. And I'm too English to say what he would."

Although both are Israeli, Packer's parents are English immigrants, having made aliyah before she was born. Srulovich laughingly describes the street on which she grew up - alongside other English immigrants: "It's like Privet Drive, a little corner of Berkshire."

The other benefit of working together is that they can let each other have time to themselves.

"We can share responsibility, and know that if one of us is not there, the other can cope," says Srulovich.

The downside is little time off together.

"Not as much as we'd like," says Packer, although they have managed the odd week here or there, travelling to "wherever the food is good".

Another reason for their seven-day working week has been the book published last week - Honey & Co: Food from the Middle East.

Such a project would normally take two years, but they completed it in one - their second year of trading. No surprise that time was tight.

"That first year was a bit of a blur. You work really hard, you don't have the chance to stop and enjoy what you're doing. We thought it was a good way to record everything that was happening," says Packer, who would take restaurant recipes home to record them and convert them to home quantities.

The book is as much a romance as a recipe book, tracing their story with Israeli candour, and revealing the shared love of food that underpins their relationship.

They met in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant in Herzlia Pituach. It was hardly love at first sight.

Srulovich writes they "were not an obvious match", in the book describing his now wife as "highly strung and uptight" and "a war machine with a Bolshevik work ethic" when they met.

She had recently returned from training in London and working at Terence Conran's Marylebone restaurant The Orrery - part of a team who won it a Michelin star. She was used to the discipline of the traditional French brigade system.

He admits he was a "beach bum who preferred sleeping or reading to working".

But something clicked, because they married, and celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary this year.

Soon after their Cyprus wedding they left for London, arriving on Christmas Day 2004. Both worked at the Oxo Tower before Packer took on an exective chef role setting up Yotam Ottolenghi's Nopi. Srulovich has also worked for him and he remains a good friend.

"He's a lovely man. He and a group of us still meet once a week, for breakfast and to discuss anything - except food," laughs Packer.

Their food and the recipes in the book are perhaps not as refined as Ottolenghi's. It's real food though, the food that they eat and is easily prepared at home - with a hoard of Middle Eastern staples, some of which are sold in the restaurant, alongside home-blended spice mixes and preserved lemons.

"It's food you would want to eat at home. Our kitchen is small - almost domestic - so our recipes translate well to a home kitchen."

The couple clearly enjoy what they are doing.Their open, friendly attitude has spawned a community of regulars and staff who come and go in a steady stream while I'm there, interrupting them frequently for a chat, hug or joke.

I leave with the remains of my cake in a takeaway box and a need to rush home and cook from their book. On my own.

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