At the height of the Jersey Royal season back in spring, here at Phipps we were busy packing freshly dug potatoes into hessian sacks and sending them to journalists to share the excitement around the start of the season. One of our press targets was Honey & Co., the Israeli couple Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, FT columnists and owner of three London restaurants with a focus on Middle Eastern food. Due to some fortuitous timing in July, Sarit and Itamar ran a beautiful piece on the last Jersey Royals of the season, so they were firmly on our radar when the third birthday of their restaurant Honey & Smoke rolled around.
To celebrate, the pair ran a special edition of their podcast The Food Talks, interviewing three different chefs across a series of ‘Smoke Sundays’ in their Great Portland Street restaurant. The third of these was with chef Gill Meller of River Cottage, focused on cooking on open fires. With the autumn nights drawing in, the pull of a cosy Sunday spent talking about, then eating, some delicious and warming food was too much to resist.
Gill shared happy childhood camping memories, ingenious cooking techniques and the simple joy of togetherness when sharing food around a fire.
First up was the podcast recording, where Gill chatted to Sarit and Itamar about the joys of cooking on open fires: the resulting smoky flavour, happy childhood camping memories, ingenious cooking techniques involving clay and the simple joy of togetherness when sharing food around a fire.
Then came the meal. Focaccia with bacon and herbs and homemade cheese was followed by clay-baked onions. Cooked in shells of clay, they not only had a unique earthy, smoky flavour, but were so beautiful that they wouldn’t have looked out of place in a modern art installation. Then grilled cabbage and the main event: wood-roast lamb shoulder on a bed of creamy dahl, so tender it fell off the bone. Dessert was honey and coriander cakes with a gorgeously soft, rich cream. We all agreed it was the best meal we’d had in a long time, with each dish so carefully crafted and considered, showing off the unusual and delicious flavours.
Sarit, Itamar and Gill cooked it themselves, going back and forth from the kitchen to the restaurant to chat to us about the food; we felt as though we’d spent the afternoon in the cosiness of a friend’s kitchen.
Foraging for raw ingredients and cooking them over bare flames in an outdoor setting is a primitive yet undeniably romantic notion. In a world where our food flies thousands of miles before reaching our plates, at great cost to the environment, it makes sense to return to basics, stripping food back to its bare elements and being mindful of its provenance and seasonality. And it is fun – with increasingly busy lives, it is wonderfully indulgent to spend a day lovingly creating a meal with others.
In a world where our food flies thousands of miles before reaching our plates, it makes sense to strip food back to its bare elements, and to be mindful of its provenance and seasonality.
It makes sense that the phenomenon of ‘wild dining’ is rapidly growing. A recent FT article on the subject by Gisela Williams highlights Scandinavia’s position at the forefront of the movement, with outdoor foraging and cooking experiences becoming increasingly popular.
It is a movement we hope will continue to grow; we left Honey & Smoke full and content, resolved to invest in fire pits and dreaming of evenings spent sipping wine, feasting on deliciously smoky food, and laughing with friends around the enchanting glow of a fire…