Restaurant review

Miznon restaurant review by Jimi Famurewa: Forget the weird bits, there’s method in its madness

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ed flags, ominous omens, the deafening sound of several alarm bells ringing at once. However you prefer to describe recognizable restaurant warning signs, when I first visited Miznon in Soho there was a glaring abundance of them. Accompanied by pulverized Hebrew pop, this first British branch of the hit Israeli pita chain was virtually empty except for staff hunched over laptops; each table was adorned with a long sheet of butcher’s paper and a single tomato; the walls were chalked with confusing, repeated aphorisms (“Every pita has its own unique birthmark”) that reminded me a little of the inside of a cell in Arkham Asylum.

They were new eccentricities producing a sort of familiar sinking feeling. And so, despite the pedigree of this place (famous founder Eyal Shani has already successfully exported the brand to Paris and New York), I braced myself for an experience I’d be hard pressed to comprehend, let alone enjoy. But then came warm pita soldiers, drenched in the outrageously snappy freshness of a sour cream, tomato and green chili dip, a beautifully beige and mesmerizingly creamy lima bean stew and a silky hummus life changing (with an inspired heap of hot chickpeas) that was so good I burst out laughing. Then, suddenly, I understood. Rather than revealing his shortcomings, Miznon’s many odd flourishes are signs of his supreme and fully justified confidence. This is sure to be one of the most confusing places you will eat this year. It will also probably be one of the best.

The successful transfer of some of the quality and spirit of the concept is, I am told, particularly impressive. Miznon – Hebrew for “kiosk” – is an institution in Tel Aviv, but much of its appeal has to do with the specific attitude of this city. Or, as a loyal Miznon companion put it, on a much busier second lunchtime visit: “Basically it’s outside, it’s hot, and there’s just a lot of people shout in Hebrew.”

During busier services, this noisy atmosphere is present and correct in Soho. Yet when it comes to the menu — written in a kind of Google-translated cod-philosophical slang, which we should probably call “Miznonese” — there’s an unexpected simplicity. The naked tomatoes (“slaughtered before your eyes”) brought a huge multicolored bowl of fruit, thick in wedges, lightly seasoned and fully ripe. The roasted cauliflower had a hauntingly poetic quality: an unadorned whole brassica, speckled with burn, slow-cooked to impart sweet and nutty subtleties.

Absurd culinary prank: Fish, chips and cottage pie looks awful on paper, but it’s mind-blowing in its own way

/ Adrian Lourie

But, of course, there’s nothing restrained about Miznon’s signature pitas — hulking, paper-swathed monsters that, as Shani said, seek to express a city’s culture in flatbread. In Paris it was beef bourguignon but here it’s fish and chips and a huge wodge of cottage pie. Or rather, dishes that look like absurd culinary pranks until you actually taste them and your mind is constantly blown away. The “fish and chips”, a delicately grilled piece of sea bass, I think, thick slices of roasted potato, a dash of tartar sauce and pickle, nails the grease and vinegar rush of a good chippy tea; this cottage pie features cracked, crispy bits in its comforting, carefully seasoned stodge mat.

The life-changing hummus with an inspired heap of hot chickpeas was so good it made me burst out laughing

Of course, the quality of the pita – soft as a mitten lined with sheepskin, with a lovely lingering note of complex sweetness – is the secret weapon. Still, it’s the freshness, gonzo excellence, wit and slow-crafted flavors that really shine. This, in addition to the reasonable prices and the bubbly, well-trained team, may be what makes Shani’s creation feel like such a hit out of the box. Granted, there were a few issues (a misplaced piece of shell in a hard-boiled egg filling; a ratatouille and tahini pita that wasn’t completely consistent). But Miznon is a special game-changing opening, suited to a time when very little makes sense. Forget what you think you know. There is method in his madness, and sheer brilliance in his bones.

8 Broadwick Street, W1F 8HF. Meal for two plus drinks around £90. Open Monday to Saturday from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.; miznon.co.uk