The owners of Aegean restaurant Hovarda and the currently closed modern Turkish restaurant Yosma, will open a new, Eastern Mediterranean grill on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch on Monday 2 December. Barboun is the third restaurant from executive chef Hus Vedat, who has installed long-time protégé and collaborator Fezile Ozalgan as head chef on this 100-cover site, which sits on the ground-floor of a new 125-room hotel called Zabeel House from the Jumeirah Group, which was announced last year. Windows at the rear of the hotel have had vinyls with the word “TAVLA” affixed, suggesting that it may have changed its name. (A spokesperson for the restaurant was unable to share any details relating to the hotel.)
Barboun, which means red mullet in Turkish, is inspired by the flavours of Levantine coast — Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel — and inland to Jordan, food largely cooked over fire. It comprises a vast, light, pale-wood street facing dining room, opposite standout Shoreditch newcomer, Gloria, and metres away from the Nobu Hotel — in what is fast establishing itself as a West London-lite pocket of the trendy east London area.
Vedat says that he, Ozalgan, and five other key members of staff are London-born and of Turkish-Cypriot heritage. Ozalgan, who met Vedat at Jamie Oliver’s now-closed Barbecoa, told Eater at the restaurant this week: “we’ve gone through ranks cooking other people’s food. There comes a point when you ask, ‘What is my food?’ It’s a dream to cook from my heritage.”
That heritage, including modern interpretations of dishes eaten daily at her home growing up, is writ large on an extensive menu, which runs through nibbles, small plates, big plates, for sharing, and sides. “Borek, manti, and dolma are the things we grew up with,” Vedat says, after Ozalgan fondly reminisces on how eating dolma every day as a child was boring. “I was sick of them,” she says, laughing, and turns to the version at Barboun, which are merely inspired by the variety of her household: here, she stuffs thin sheets of sun-dried aubergine with spiced bulgar wheat, red pepper, and sour cherry, and serves them alongside a confit garlic yoghurt and burnt butter.
Manti, meat-filled dumplings, too, are completely different to those found at the vast majority of London’s Turkish restaurants. Firstly, they are made from a black dough, which incorporates activated charcoal from coconut husks; secondly, they are larger than is typical. The chefs acknowledge, when asked, that Instagrammability factored into this unorthodox preparation. But say, also, that the dish is designed — in its entirety — to look and feel as well as taste “very smoky.” The parcels are filled with beef, smoked paprika, and garlic yoghurt; the charcoal is in effect an attempt to bring the dish back to the fire, grill, and smoke which underpins much of what this kitchen will put out.
With other small plates like borek (spinach, feta, and walnut pastry), muhlama (cheese fondue with bread), and the so-called signature dish of pan-fried red mullet fillets, Vedat is entertained by the idea of their “grandmother’s rolling in their graves” at the chefs’ unwillingness to adhere to any strict culinary dogma. More seriously, though, it seems that London in 2019 has given these operators the confidence to make that departure. Yosma, though itself a modern Turkish ocakbaşı, largely confined the chef and his team to grilling meat and reiterating salads. Here, Vedat says he wants to go further: “I don’t want it to be restrictive or focused on Turkey in the way Yosma was — we want to broaden it out and create opportunities.” He also recognises that, while there has been a degree of “hit down by traditional Turks, others loved it.” (Vedat also confirmed that Yosma, at a much more intimate site, possibly in Soho, would be returning next year.)
Barboun will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and will have a takeaway deli as well as a bar with a completely separate menu and pints of beer which Vedat is keen to emphasise will only be £5.50. The bar will also serve three flatbreads — the “Chokehold” (artichokes), the “Codfather” (tarama), and the “Abrakebabra” (lamb) — which will be priced at between £6 and £9. In a bid to cater to as many people as possible, as much as possible, they’re aiming to court the Shoreditch drinks crowd. Other drinking food snacks will include merguez Scotch egg and burnt ends.
Breakfast will be served as a traditional spread including jams, olives, cheeses and cold meats from the region. Simit, honeycomb, clotted cream and yogurts will also feature in the buffet style format, alongside traditional Turkish tea and coffee. Classic breakfast dishes such as çilbir, a Turkish dish of poached eggs with yogurt, and shakshuka will feature as well as a “Levantine-style cooked breakfast.”
Excluding the bar and a private dining room, the restaurant — which a 100 years ago was cabinet makers’ studio — is 100 covers. It’s vast and to work, in an area that has struggled to sustain a reliable lunch trade, will need to be busy. These operators hope that their generosity will go someway to achieving that. “Feeding people is significant,” Vedat says.
“In our culture, we have to leave full.”