It might help to imagine the following typed up in Comic Sans, like the menus at Miznon, Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani’s cult pita shops in Tel Aviv, New York, Paris, London, and beyond. The funny font is a cue to take Miznon as you find it, as Miznon does you. There can be no standing on ceremony in a place where pop music blares from speakers, the kitchen serves “magic mushrooms” and “squeezed tomato ovaries”, and the walls are scrawled with the words “forks and knives are not your friends. Use your hands not your manners.”
That’s the Miznon brand of hospitality: gleeful, open, cheeky, a little anti-establishment. It’s unique and as affordable as it gets with pitas as little as £8 each. Little wonder London’s cash-strapped diners are all over it.
Shani opened his first Miznon (meaning “kiosk”) in Tel Aviv in 2011 and has grown his empire since to a dozen with two outposts currently in London. Soho launched late summer; Notting Hill followed late 2022; and there are whispers of a third in east London.
For every city he arrives in, Shani creates a new pita. For New York it was a folded, flattened cheeseburger; for Paris, there was ratatouille and boeuf bourguignon stuffed inside fluffy pita. And London? “It took a long time for me to find the precise menu for London,” says Shani. “I had a lot of visions that came into my head. I began when the Queen was still alive and I tried to imagine what she was eating at the palace.” So far, the Brit hits have been a full English, a shepherd’s pie, and fish and chips re-engineered for stuffing vertically inside a pita.
Miznon’s success is all down to that pita. “The principle of Miznon was the moment when I recognised that pita is the most genius bread. I discovered something very obvious that nobody understood it before me. Pita belongs to the Middle East, where it’s used mainly for putting falafel, hummus, shawarma inside. People live on them and they are cheap and they taste so good. Then I saw that pita wished for much more. The most beautiful combination is fine cuisine in a pita because then [it becomes] street cuisine, and street cuisine is much more important than fine cuisine. Fine cuisine, it’s for rich people; a lot of cooks, very expensive, most of the people eating it are not young. When you convert it into a mobile food, young people buy it. Pita forces you to sell it cheap because how much can you charge?”
“I’ve been cooking for the last 25 years if I’m not wrong and for 20 years of this time [my food] was very expensive. People admired me but they hated me also because I charged so much – not because I wanted that money, I gave it to my cooks, to my suppliers, to my mistakes. From the moment I opened Miznon, everything changed. People began to love me. Young people came and changed everything for me, so for me these pita places are the blessing of my life, not because I’m earning more money but because I’m doing the right thing.”
In Shani’s own words, here are five essential dishes on Miznon’s menu to look out for.
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Baby Whole Roasted Cauliflower Melted Into Its Own Crown
Eyal Shani claims to have invented the whole roasted cauliflower. Whether he did or didn’t – and that conundrum is all part of the Miznon mythology – there’s nevertheless no denying the ubiquity on modern menus of the whole roasted cauliflower. It’s Miznon’s star dish and, at every site, cauliflowers are stacked up on proud display like Amalfi lemons at the River Café.
It came about with Shani’s realisation that cauliflower is a single flower and should not be broken up when it’s cooked, so started experimenting cooking with it whole. Thus, the cauliflower cooks in its own juices, giving it a more intense cauliflower sweetness. The recipe calls for nothing more than salt (they use Gros Sel de Guerande), olive oil and no butter whatsoever, however buttery it may taste. That’s the cauliflower doing its own work. Shani’s goal is to let the cauliflower ‘speak’. Many may now roast their cauliflowers, you possibly even do it yourself, but few have the courage to be so non-interventionist.
Shani’s famous for his cauliflower but the dish he’s most proud of is his tomato dish. “You cannot imagine, I invented so many things in food,” he says, more modestly than it probably sounds. “I’m one of the main heroes of the Israeli new cuisine but I’m not proud of that; I’m proud that I’ve found that by cutting the tomato into two, and squeezing the ovaries of both halves, I created a new sauce. When you do that act and squeeze the tomato’s ovaries over the food, immediately all the sun, the food, that the ingredient collected inside itself is coming out, the sweetness, the light. It’s so simple. It’s a movement but that movement was not in the world before. That’s the thing of which I am most proud.”
The Best Bolognese Spaghetti in Town
Don’t tell your mum/nonna/roomie. This pita actually originated at Miznon in Tel Aviv and is relatively new to the menu. Essentially, it’s Shani’s ragù recipe and spaghetti in a pita with some spicy salsa and Parmesan. It was one of the Miznon team’s successful ‘suck it and see’ ideas that worked out. They don’t all.
To a Brit, bastardising spag bol is no big deal; our knowingly inauthentic teatime favourite is already many, many removes from traditional ragù Bolognese. If Miznon opens a branch in Italy, well, let’s see how it goes down there.
Run Over Potato
Where to begin with the “run over potato”? So the story goes, the dish was Shani’s subconscious response to a murder case he’d read about, where the perp drove over the victim six times with a car. Shani found himself doing the same to a potato, only with a 12kg pestle and mortar in lieu of vehicle. Sour cream, dill, spring onion and a light touch of garlic are spooned onto a baked potato with olive oil and salt in a folded sheet of greaseproof paper. The chef then crushes it as flat as it will go using, somewhat arbitrarily, a chunk of rail track from London Underground (it’s clean, don’t worry). What’s clever about the dish, in terms of eatability, is that because it’s flat, every single piece of potato is in contact with the sauce.
Potatoes crop up regularly, including in the fish and chip pita, where they’re crushed but not to the point of obliteration. Shani explains: “We cook the potatoes in a completely different way, squeezing them and breaking them before frying, rather than cutting them, to bring out all the texture and taste of each potato. You have to understand the genome of the ingredient, and the precise movements you have to make not to lose any information that is in the ingredient, not the texture, not the aromas, not the taste. That’s very important to me. All the time I’m trying to find the optimum way to express all that knowledge.
Potato obsessives will be pleased to hear of yet another tater dish launching this month in London: a chip butty which, we’re told, is “absolutely bonkers delicious.” Expect warm pita, buttered on both walls of the pita, aioli on one side, then fresh skinny fries, pickles, and Champagne vinegar.
Folder Burger with a Golden Crown of English Cheddar
This dish was created originally for New York. Shani aims to encapsulate every city he opens Miznon in in a pita unique to that city. For him, the burger is New York. It’s quite different from a burger, in actuality, the patty flattened, the cheese sizzled on the plancha. Nevertheless, it has many a customer declaring it the best burger they’ve ever had. The chefs use a tortilla press to flatten the patty, so it cooks as quickly as possible. It’s rare in a fast casual set-up for everything to be cooked to order. It means speed is of the essence, hence an obsession with shapes and surface areas.
A Whole Feast that Paints On Your Table
A sharing dish that Shani was initially serving on a piece of cardboard, apparently. Miznon’s chefs are allowed to get creative with this one. It’s a base of hummus on a large metal tray, on top of which is a tumble of falafel, charred onions, grilled tomatoes, grilled chillies, olive oil, and spicy sauce. It comes with pita. That it’s “painted” is a reference to the artistry of each individual chef who can serve it their own way. No two chefs plate it the same.
This signature dish is in keeping with the hands-on, knife and fork free approach. “Food is about passion,” says Shani. “If I’m passionate about my food, I want you to be completely open, completely free, that there will be no filters between you and my creation, between you and my food. I love to see you eating with your hands. I love to see the olive oil drizzling. I’m doing it from love and from feeling very close to my food. I cannot stand it when it’s become formal.”
Miznon Soho and Miznon Notting Hill are open now. Make a reservation at Miznon Soho here.