Sarit Packer was born in Israel to British parents. She has been cooking all her life, and it was during her military service in Israel that she decided she wanted to study to become a chef. Sarit studied in London and worked at a number of top-notch restaurants, including Orrery in Marylebone.
“I don’t know if you realise but a junior chef typically works sixteen hours a day and earns very little. I was working at that prestigious restaurant but could barely afford rent and beans on toast.”
Sarit decided to move to Israel, which is where she met her husband Itamar. Together they travelled to London and worked at J Sheekey, the Oxo Tower Restaurant and Ottolenghi. Sarit worked mostly with pastry. At Ottolenghi she developed a range of cakes, bakes and puddings before being offered a role to open Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi’s first ‘proper’ restaurant. It gave her a first-hand experience of what it involved.
Sarit and Itamar were hoping to open their own place, cook food they are passionate about and work for themselves. Of course, it takes more than just an idea to make it happen.
“Nobody knew who we were. We put offers on restaurants, but got rejected.”
It took them two years to find a place. They walked into Fitzrovia and found a big deli with orange walls and a giant display fridge. Aesthetics aside, the deli had an almost functioning kitchen, large front windows, and the Warren Street neighbourhood had a nice feel about it.
London foodies can no doubt help me complete the story. Itamar and Sarit opened Honey & Co, a tiny restaurant serving scrumptious Middle Eastern food and offering a daily selection of irresistible cakes. Their food is adored by both punters and professional critics. Together Sarit and Itamar have written and published a book of Honey & Co recipes.
Talking to Sarit, I am beginning to understand the secret of their success.
“Many restaurant kitchens are completely disconnected from the customers. We wanted to reverse that. Itamar often helps with the service, he chats to the customers and we take their feedback on board. We have plenty of regulars who keep coming back and spreading the word about us.”
Opening Honey & Co was a challenge Sarit always wanted. Often employers put their team members into a particular box, be it patisserie or ‘the numbers’ and neglect the fact that their employees are not challenged anymore and aren’t developing other talents they may have. Setting up on their own was a gamble, but it has been an exhilarating adventure and it paid off.
I also asked Sarit what it was like to be working with her husband.
“We have always been working together. As a chef, I would probably be seeing very little of my husband if we weren’t in the kitchen together. We have the same passion about food, our Middle Eastern roots and the community. We travel together, getting inspiration from different food cultures, we come up with new ideas together, and I would not have it any other way.”
If you live in London, you absolutely must pop into Honey & Co. If you mention Ladies Who Impress, they may even cut you a bigger cake slice (I’ve just made it up but do give it a go).