You tend to make your mind up about a restaurant before you've even sat down. I mean, you've obviously made your mind up before that. I, for instance, chose Barboun to meet my friends Nick and Paula for a long overdue Saturday night dinner because I'd decided Barboun was cool: a slick new East Mediterranean restaurant in the middle of Shoreditch from Hus Vedat, whose Yosma in Marylebone I loved. Barboun sparkles from many a hot new openings list; its food glows from the grid of influencers galore. Where could be more ideal to share loads of great food and great wine with old pals?
Except I'm not sure I’ve ever been in a restaurant as depressing as Barboun at 7.30pm on a Saturday night. It’s a huge, unlovely room, the bland pampered beige of a Eurotrash hotel lobby; the sort of place where both customers and hostesses wear backless bodycon and the entire Harrods makeup counter. There are over 100 covers, and at the most popular time of the week to eat out there were… four (4) people seated at two (2) tables. Deep house musak rumbled like it was 2pm at a third-rate Ibiza beach bar.
I wandered sadly to the loo, and past two meeting rooms and a gym. Barboun, it transpires, actually is a hotel lobby, or at least leads off one, in the Hart Hotel - part of the ‘Curio Collection by Hilton’ chain, complete with DJ and cocktail bar in the actual lobby at weekends. I’d made my mind up. Barboun was awful. Irredeemable.
And yet… redemption came. It started with the wine: the first of many biodynamic/natural/interesting stuff available by the glass, unexpected in this pseudo-boutique wannabe-Nobu. And then food began arriving, and I was forced to smother my disparaging words in the intense bottarga-topped taramasalata, and eat them. Because the cooking at Barboun is really good, and some dishes are even excellent. Like the beetroot fritters, jellyish with beetroot flesh and dusted with bright pink beetroot powder, like Turkish delight, in a pool of feta cream - the hackneyed combination of flavours gleefully reinvented. Dolma are wonderful, lavishly leafy parcels of bulgar wheat studded with sour cherries, the whole smothered in sun-dried tomato.
Nick is vegetarian and I’m suffering existential angst about climate change and the amount of methane-parping animal that I shovel in my gob. Aren’t we all. So we bypass octopus and short rib and baby chicken for roots and shoots: sculptural wedges of fleshy celeriac with a delicious rubble of smoked almonds and parsley, on extraordinary begendi: basically baba ganoush, but whipped with butter, milk and roasted flour to divine creamy, smoky mush, the baby food of the gods. Pretty hunks of beautifully roasted Delica pumpkin are spoiled by a musty sauce described as green tahini, but tasting more like the back of your larder, a damp dust of indistinguishable dusty herbs. Kunefe for pudding is good, crispy and not-too-sweet, with extra syrup on the side for pour on the shredded wheat and cream cheese.
Is Barboun perfect? Absolutely not. But it is good, and it deserves to be busier on a Saturday night. So do all London’s restaurants. They need you. Get out there and dig in.
Barboun 61-67 Great Eastern Street
It’s quintessentially De Bethune and you can even customise the constellation on the dial because each one is made from miniscule hand-fitted white-gold pins.
Its signature tapered and curved rectangles are instantly recognisable to those in the know; you might even have noticed one on the wrist of tennis legend Rafa Nadal. However, Richard Mille is not what you’d call mainstream. Probably because of the rather steep price tags most of his timepieces command.
From the start Mille wanted to eschew tradition and make watches using techniques and materials borrowed from F1 and aviation.
His watches are super-light and extremely durable – rumour has it Mille used to throw them at walls in meetings to demonstrate those qualities. They’ve featured half-time, extra-time and stoppage time trackers, especially for football managers, regatta timers for sailors and, on the more feminine side, a flower automaton that opens to reveal a tourbillon whirling inside.
They may look out of this world, but every watch is also powered by incredible mechanics as well, in keeping with Mille’s founding philosophy of making timepieces that tread a fine line between gimmickry and amazement.
A total departure from the usual moody aesthetic, but still using insane techniques such as ‘puffing’ enamel to make it look like the eponymous confection. Wear it and smile.
Female, Scottish, only just over 30 and, a woman who, until 2011 didn’t know the difference between a quartz and mechanical movement, Fiona Kruger is not your typical watchmaker. Her watches certainly aren’t typical either. Her inaugural collection was based on the Mexican calacas; the elaborate skeletons with distinctive wide cheekbones, large round eyes, and floral or religious adornments associated with the Dia de Muertos festival. The cases were skull shaped, the movements made to fit by Technotime and they were unlike anything on the scene both then and since. In recent years, Kruger has branched out from skulls into quantum physics with her Entropy collection – a brave design that has no dial, just explosion-shaped openings cut into the movement to reveal specific components. The name of the collection is used in quantum fields to explain the passing of time through the shift from a state of order towards a state of disorder or chaos. Which, in essence, describes perfectly how Kruger is shaking up the watch industry.
The original might be too large for some tastes, but this miniaturised version is perfect. And you get a dial guillochéd by none other than industry legend Kari Voutilainen’s dial factory Comblémine into the bargain.
Maximilian Büsser may have some of the industry’s finest names on his CV, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre and Harry Winston, but he is most definitely one of its most indefatigable iconoclasts. Since setting up his eponymous brand in 2007 (the F is for “friends” to acknowledge the collaborative nature of the enterprise), his creations have made many an eyebrow raise with their brilliance and general WTF-ery.
His first “watch”, or Horological Machine as Büsser preferred to term it resembled owls’ eyes rendered in mechanics and housed a host of inventions. Since then he has collaborated with other watchmakers with a similarly “out of the box” view of what constitutes a timepiece creating such eye-openers as a watch that looks like a frog, a robot table clock and music box shaped like the USS Enterprise that plays such classics as the Star Wars theme and Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven. In 2019, Büsser designed his first-ever women’s watch - the LM Flying T. Inspired by his wife and daughters, it initially appears a restrained affair, with its oil-sick dark pool of a dial and delicate diamond-set bezel, until you realise that at the centre is a vertically constructed flying tourbillon. But then you wouldn’t expect Max Büsser to make a run of the mill women’s watch, now would you?
Obviously. It is an astonishing feat of engineering wrapped in the horological equivalent of an exquisitely designed couture gown.
Given Moser’s tagline is “Very Rare” there’s a very good chance you won’t have heard of it, despite its over 170-year watchmaking history, albeit with a few hiatuses in production.
The most recent incarnation was relaunched in 2012 by the family-owned MELB Holding Group – with the youthful (at 43 we’re talking relatively for this industry) Edouard Meylan as CEO. It has made a name for itself by making headline-grabbing timepieces such as the Nature watch – a working timepiece with a case adorned tiny growing plants native to Switzerland and a strap made of grass. Or the Swiss Mad watch – a protest at the way brands sourced parts globally but still used the term “Swiss made, it was 100% Helvetian and featured a bezel made from Swiss cheese.
However, its core collection is where the real beauty lies. Everything is made in-house, including regulating organs and balance springs and its signature fumé dials are unlike anything around and so distinctive that connoisseurs can spot them at 10 paces even though many of them don't have the Moser name on the dial.
Which is more of a calling card than a bezel made of cheese.
It ticks all the Moser boxes: gorgeous fume dial, only three hands and no name because if you know, you know.
Header image | richard mille