Eyal Shani: “Everywhere I go, I want to translate the city into a pita”

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Eyal Shani on bringing Miznon to London and plans to open HaSalon restaurant

Related tags Eyal Shani Mediterranean Miznon Street food restaurant Chef HaSalon

The idiosyncratic Miznon founder has built a global empire pursuing his passion for pita.

Eyal Shani is staring at me with a look that’s pitched somewhere between incredulity and bemusement. Minutes earlier we sat down in the Israeli-born chef’s second London restaurant, in Notting Hill, for what was meant to be an interview about Miznon, the Mediterranean street food brand he first brought to the capital last year. Almost immediately, though, Shani shuts down my hopes of exploring the ins and outs of his business.

“The business is not interesting,” he says, almost chuckling at the idea of having such a conversation. “It’s working. We’re giving food and taking money; and we’re growing, so it’s working.”

He’s not wrong… at least with regards to the business’s success (we’ll have to agree to disagree over whether a discussion on it would have made for a stimulating interview). Shani launched his first Miznon restaurant in Tel Aviv back in 2011, and subsequently expanded the brand to major cities across the world including Paris, Vienna, Melbourne, Singapore, New York, and now London where he has established outposts in Soho and Notting Hill in quick succession. And he’s not stopping there, with reports last summer suggesting the chef was aiming to open 150 Miznon sites across Europe in the next five years.

Shani’s decision to bring the brand to the UK capital was based on what he effectively describes as a mutual attraction. “We were seduced,” he says, in typically floral language. A smile breaks out across his face, and he adds: “It’s very easy to seduce us.

“When we visit a new city, we see opportunities and ideas about how to open a restaurant there. [Miznon] needs masses of people and big cities. Because I need the energy; I need to see the people streaming through the windows into my restaurant. If the energy is higher the food is better.”

Breaking bread

‘A bit of a character’… that’s how Shani was described to me by a number of people prior to our interview. It’s a fair description. His wiry frame and somewhat chaotic grey hair brings to mind Back to the Future​’s Doc Brown. And like Brown, Shani is verbose and enthusiastic; an eccentric with an underlying optimism, who speaks thoughtfully and passionately about his craft. Getting a straight answer from him is rare, but he’s a likeable and infectious presence who has you in his grasp from the moment you sit down with him.

When we meet, Shani has literally just stepped off the plane from Tel Aviv, arriving in London for a whistle-stop tour in which he will launch the Notting Hill restaurant and, hopefully, sign off on plans to bring a second concept to the capital (more on that later). A self-taught chef, he opened his first restaurant, Ocean – an Israeli fine dining restaurant – in 1989. And after closing that, he spent several years as a restaurant consultant before launching Miznon.

“Originally, I’m coming from fine cuisine,” he says. “I’ve been cooking for the last 35 years. By my style isn’t about fine dining and Michelin star cooking; it’s very wild, it’s elegant and vibrant, and full of risk and wonderment.” Smiling, he adds: “Everything a three Michelin star restaurant would not do, I’m doing.”


Core to the Miznon concept is Shani’s deep affinity with pita bread. We’re not talking about the dry and often structurally unsound pitas you’d likely find in the bakery aisles of any UK supermarket; the pita at Miznon is soft and pillowy – a light and fluffy vessel that represents a world of opportunity to Shani.

“It was about 14 years ago that I began to recognise that I’m getting passionate about pita bread. Pita is the most genius bread in the world. Why? Because it’s a womb.”

A brief pause to let his words hang in the air, and he continues. “If you are making a hot sandwich, it’s open on all sides, but with a pita, 280°​ are closed. Only 70°​ to 80°​ are open, and that makes a circulation inside when you put hot food in it.”

Every filled pita served at Miznon has been specifically created in such a way so as to ensure each element within the bread helps to stop the steam from escaping. “It’s taking the flavours and mixing them together, and the axis liquids and steams that come from the food are absorbed inside the inner sponge of the pita.

“If you are a chef and you are creating a dish to go on a plate then whatever you do is what you get. But if you put it inside a pita, it’s improving the dish and flavour.”

An unconventional menu

As with its outposts across the world, Miznon London’s menu centres on a range of stuffed pita options, each of which is spread with tahini and sour cream. A couple lean towards convention: there’s a falafel option, for example, described on the irreverently effusive menu as being ‘the best falafel pita you will ever eat’; and the ‘long, thick and juicy lamb kebab’. Most of the options, though, are a little more unusual.

“When I first begun focusing on pita bread, I recognised that it was traditional to the Middle Eastern cuisine,” says Shani. “But I discovered the thing it most likes is fine cuisine, because it’s taken that elegance and given it a stronger character. And from the moment I realised that I chose to open a pita restaurant and translate my cooking through that.”

Shani takes that even further by looking for ways to express elements of the local gastronomy on the menu, wherever he opens a new Miznon restaurant. “Everywhere I go, I want to translate the city into a pita. I spend time going around; I eat at the restaurants; I watch the locals – thinking about what they like and what they dream about.”


As such, the menu at Miznon London sees a number of classic British dishes realised as a pita filling. They include a cottage pie pita; an all-day English breakfast pita with steak, egg, and lima beans in spicy tomato sauce; and a fish and chips pita.

The cottage pie one, in particular, Shani takes great pride in, saying it brought his restaurant manager to tears when he first tried it. “It reminded him of when his mother used to make a tray of shepherd’s pie when he was a kid, and serve the leftovers as a sandwich,” explains Shani.

“That’s about intuition. My intuition when I came to London wasn’t to see the international cuisines that are here, because London absorbs all the culture. The English are imperialists and they know what’s good and what they like. The original cuisine, I was so curious about.”

One creation Shani has developed for the London business, but which is yet to make the menu, is a falafel made with a Guinness base – although the falafel pita currently being served at Soho does come with a ‘Guinness black blood’. “I love Guinness. It’s not a beer, it’s a kind of bitter milk; and I thought that that fermentation would fix the falafel.

“It’s the best falafel in the world because the fermentation is a malolactic fermentation that gives a sweetness and buttery taste into the falafel. But I was afraid when I did it as the colour is black and I didn’t want it to ruin the sunny golden complexion. On paper it doesn’t work, but you feel that they are meant to be together.”

Whether or not the Guinness falafel ever becomes a mainstay of the London menu remains to be seen. I follow it up by asking Shani if there’s anything he thinks that wouldn’t go in a pita. He pauses, thoughtfully, for a long moment before offering his response.

“Food is not a democracy,” he says. “If I would ask you, what would you like in a pita, you would be confused as you don’t know what you want. You need me, the chef, to tell you what you want. I’m telling you what to eat as I’m looking and am sensitive to what you desire and capturing the essence of your dream. When I look at you, I’m absorbing you into myself. It’s my act. Even if you don’t like it, you will like it.”

Attention to detail

It isn’t only pitas that feature on the Miznon menu. Other dishes include a signature baby whole roasted cauliflower ‘melted into its own crown’; and tomatoes ‘slaughtered in front of your eyes’.

Often ingredients are referred to as living entities on the menu, with pitas described as receiving their own ‘birthmark’. It’s a practise that’s also perceptible within Shani’s own speech. I ask if it’s deliberate, or something that comes to him naturally.

“No ingredient is simple,” comes his enigmatic response. “They are pure. Why? Because evolution has created them. Each tomato, cauliflower and courgette is so unique, nothing is similar, and my goal in life is to represent them without losing information.


Throughout our conversation, Shani often takes long pauses between questions and answers to collect his thoughts. Everything he says is considered. But one answer comes quicker than the others – when I ask him what it is, he thinks, that has made Miznon a success.

“The thing that makes a restaurant great depends on one thing: attention. When you put all your attention and are completely involved, then something is happening.

“It’s not just about food, it’s about people. I have the ingredient; I can charge it with my energy and imagination. And then the dish is a capsule; the diner swallows it, and it enters into the depth of their body and into their blood. And then they are carrying me inside their blood. Because there’s a lot of energy, knowledge and meaning in my food.

“It’s about making the people who eat my food to be happier than they were before. It’s a celebration.”

A game changer

Miznon has certainly caught the imagination of London’s foodie network. Evening Standard ​food critic Jimi Famurewa described the Soho restaurant as a ‘game-changing opening’​; while The Guardian​’s Grace Dent said​: “The trick here is to keep your nerve, set aside all British fears of wackiness and let the chaos envelop you, because the food is extraordinarily good.”

Shani is clearly encouraged by the response, but he’s also keen to explore other avenues in the city. That includes bringing over another of his restaurant brands, HaSalon, which is expected to make its debut in the city in the coming months.

In contrast to Miznon, HaSalon is expected to be a more refined prospect, but one that continues to embody Shani's distinctive culinary creativity. “The HaSalon here will be unbelievable,” says Shani. “It’ll be completely different. I’m not trying to copy myself.”

He pauses, and suddenly I find myself being stared at by Shani again. “You’re a young guy, but when you’re my age the only thing that’s left for you is to move, to keep going. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

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