Barboun is a breath of fresh warm Mediterranean air. An oasis offering the flavours and charms of Levantine coastal towns. Stepping into the restaurant, I entered a tranquil atmosphere of sleek furnishings, soft lighting and muted colour hues which makes for a calming contrast with the bustle of Shoreditch.
Soaring ceilings with lit columns in organic scandi wood strike a sophisticated note in the spacious interior while real olive trees are dotted around, complementing the restaurant’s Mediterranean roots. More worthy interior mentions are the grand spiral staircase down to the loos and a large circular light installation mimicking the moon, which radiates a warm and milky glow at The Hart Hotel.
The emerging talent of Turkish Cypriot head chef Fezile Ozalgan is a definite one to watch. The menu concentrates on Ozalgan’s philosophy for using fire, smoke and grills, with a simplified yet plentiful selection of locally sourced high-quality meats and fish with spices from Istanbul.
We started with a small plate simply named Barboun (red mullet in Turkish), seared to perfection with the vibrant crispy red skin and tender white meat layered on top of charred romano peppers and preserved lemon puree giving it a zesty flare. This was then topped with a sprinkle of hazelnuts.
Another meze arrived – a prawn Saganaki. Two substantial size prawns that were juicy and meaty, with a delicate char undertone which was delicious it its own right but outshone by the thick and smoky butter bisque that it was cooked in. A rich savoury taste with bursts of refreshing datterini tomatoes. I devoured the crustaceans from head to tail.
Moving onto the big plates, this is where you’ll see Ozalgan’s passion for the flame light up, allowing the wood fired mangal to do most of the talking. I went for Halibut, the king of the sea. A royal display of 250g of fish imprinted by kisses of char from the grill. The snow-white meat is naturally sweet and has a firm texture that does not dissipate on the grill. It is served with smoked tomatoes for a sharp tanginess and a lightly sweet snap that compliments the prized fish. It is testament to the skill and understanding of the chef that these complex flavours were well balanced and not forced.
The hidden gems here, however, are the side dishes. Mujadara is a traditional Levant dish made from lentils cooked with garlic oil and lemon, mixed with grains to absorb flavour. A simple yet aromatic dish with impressive depth and complexity. Yet another memorable side was Batata Harra. I was lucky enough to be next to a Lebanese person, who translated it to spicy potatoes in Arabic. Using a mixture of spices, herbs, and crispy starchiness from the potatoes it is the perfect side to pair with my halibut. What made this dish better than the Lebanese version was the sheer sleek crispiness of these potatoes which had a crunch loud enough to drown out the Shoreditch traffic outside with the fluffiest, lightest potato inside.
Surprisingly, we still had room for desserts. A must have is the Burma Baklava, three beautiful filo rolls soaked in cinnamon syrup, with a scoop of clotted ice-cream and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts. Heavenly. My Lebanese friend came in handy again! Explaining to me that Fried Simit is nicknamed the Turkish pretzel. It came freshly baked, covered in powdered sugar with caramel, yellow peach, hazelnuts, and date ice-cream. A nice contrast of hot and cold sensations.
A nightcap to end the lovely evening, I asked for a surprise and our brilliant attentive waiter came back with “Aphrodite” made from Tanqueray No. Ten Gin and a mixture of sweet fruits. Described after an ancient Greek goddess associated with love, lust, and pleasure, I understand why the name fits. For those of you that prefer less sweet cocktails, the skilled bartenders at Barboun are very capable of creating whatever you desire.
Walking out of the Mediterranean oasis, I see hipsters and cool kids around me, and I realise my holiday in the Med was over. Barboun is a precious trip worth taking.
To discover more, visit: barboun.com
All imagery courtesy of Barboun / Lateef Photography.
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