CARAVAN: A TRAILER HAPPINESS FOR BRUNCH
You see, new restaurants can get it right. It really isn’t that hard. All they have to do is give a damn and, it was apparent from the moment we walked through the doors of Caravan, a new restaurant/café on Exmouth Market, that the four owners, the chef and the staff really did give a damn. It makes all the difference.
This was only the restaurant’s second day of trading and HP had marked it as a potential venue for a late morning meal after my own day’s activities had been changed at short notice. Despite their newly opened status, Caravan seems to have hit the ground running. The welcome was immediate and charming and the service prompt, already in full swing as the room filled up with hungry punters.
My only complaint about an other wise lovely room is that the rickety wooden chairs are the most uncomfortable I have encountered in a restaurant in London in, well just about ever. That may also be, however because my ample rear provided more of a challenge than they anticipated from the skinny jeans brigade who made up most of the other custom.
The chef at Caravan is Miles Kirby, formerly Head Chef of The Providores in Marylebone. I am not always a fan of Peter Gordon’s “Hey lemongrass is on special, let’s use it on everything” approach, but they could always be relied on for a decent weekend brunch and Kirby has obviously brought that talent with him to Caravan.
The cafe will be specialising in coffee roasting and also has a tasting room planned for the basement, which makes the fact that HP’s coffee was served cold a little strange and annoying. He comforted himself with a bottle of Shepherd Neame Whitstable Ale, which was served at the perfect temperature, while I had stuck to a pot of loose leaf English Breakfast tea and an orange juice.
Prices appear reasonable at first, with my “Caravan Fry Up” coming in at £8 and HP’s Salt Beef Fritters at £9, but costs can soon mount up when you add side dishes, as we did in the form of Bubble & Squeak and “Smokey” Black Pudding. It was obvious, however, as soon as our plates were deposited in front of us, that the prices reflect the use of superb ingredients and the hiring of a top-notch chef.
The fry up comprised a thick slice of sourdough toast topped with meaty mushrooms, slow roasted tomatoes, thin and deliciously crisp bacon and two perfectly fried eggs, which despite being flipped as requested, still retained a soft runny centre. Perfect short order cooking and only the inexplicable absence of a good sausage on the menu stops me from calling this one of the best breakfasts I have eaten in donkeys years.
HP was less happy with his choice. The egg, again, was cooked perfectly and the green beans that sat on top of the salt beef fritters were crunchy and not over powered by a mustard dressing. But, the main event, the fritters themselves contained more binding potato than they did of the key ingredient, which left them as well cooked but bland pieces of stodge rather than the meaty delight he had envisioned.
Side dishes deserve particular praise. Bubble and squeak is so often rather unpleasant, but at Caravan, it is presented as a well-seasoned rissole, whose perfectly fried crisp casing broke to release a waft of savoury steam. The black pudding is some of the best either of us had tried anywhere and when questioned, they told us, it is made to order for them daily by Franconia in Putney. Studded with little nuggets of fat, the contents were softer than a traditional British black pudding, reminding us of the slightly sludgy but delicious Morcilla found in Leon, Spain. A comparison strengthened by a definite but not over powering smokey taste.
Like other meals this week, service was still finding its way in the room, but could not have been more friendly and on the ball. They used the “zonal” method rather than the “man-to-man” method, so whichever server happened to pass our table dealt with us, meaning plates were delivered and cleared efficiently. So good were the staff, in fact, that HP added another £5 to the charge already included in our £39 bill.
£20 a head might seem like a lot for brunch, but after the eating slump DH have found themselves in for the last ten days, it seemed like reasonable value for good service, good ingredients and very good cooking. The sort of breakfast place that would make people from The Guardian weep that they had to move to King's Cross.
Added to which, at no point did anyone use the excuse “please bear with us we have just opened” Other new restaurants would do well to take note.