The area behind King’s Cross is at that awkward stage in its transformation where it is on the verge of being the new in-place, but at the moment is just a load of empty office blocks and construction sites. The last time I ate in the new urban hipster hang-out that is Granary Square, was at Grain Store, and I couldn’t get past the industrial and alienating feeling of the place. I was worried I’d get the same from the Caravan here and that it would be a world away from the intimate vibe at the Exmouth Market restaurant. But as soon as I walked in all these worries disappeared. They have managed to warm the space with excellent lighting and by packing the tables in closely together. If you’re one of the unlucky few to get a table in the dark back-room by the coffee roaster then maybe you won’t share this feeling.
First I’ll get my big complaint out the way- the dreaded 2 hour turnover rule. Why do restaurants insist on telling the diners this? Do they not realise it is possibly the least hospitable and welcoming thing to have whispered in your ear? I’m paying for that seat, if I go a little over 2 hours (which is rarely the case) then find a way to deal with it. What they should do, is ensure that the service gets you in and out within that time slot. I realise Caravan isn’t the only restaurant to do this, but at the Exmouth Market restaurant I have never been told to pack my thing up if I’ve overstayed my welcome. The way not to deal with this is to then rush the diners through their dinner. We were asked twice within a minute of sitting down if we were ready to order. Can I at least look at the menu first? When we eventually did order, all 6 small plates were in front of us within 10 minutes. This meant a cluttered table and a few of the dishes went cold. It also meant we were done with our mains inside 30 minutes, and had to ask for a 15 minute break before ordering dessert. All in all, I was out within the hour. They really need to chill out and let you enjoy yourself a bit more, because this really took the shine off a great meal. Surely they can just use common sense and stagger the dishes.
With that off my chest, let’s get to the food, which on the whole was really good here. The menu is made up of a great selection of small plates that all sounded appealing. There are influences from around the globe, and some interesting combinations to be found. The waitress actually told us to order one less dish, as six would easily be enough food. I was surprised when she was right as I’d heard portions were small here, but this wasn’t the case with any dishes we tried.
First up the Jalapeno corn bread with chipotle butter (£4) had a real freshness thanks to the coriander and lime. The only slight let down was that the bread wasn’t warm enough to melt the chipotle butter, so it remained a cold clump on top.
The meats on the Charcuterie board (£8) were all tasty, especially the spicy chorizo, and it was a fair portion for this price.
The Jerusalem artichoke and parsnip bake, with mustard, honey and chestnuts (£6) was again a generous poriton, and was a real winter warmer of a dish. It remninded me of something Nigel Slater would get turned on by on one of his cooking shows. Something he’d describe as heavenly on the tongue and everything he wants from a dish. Both of these root vegetables have a lovely sweetness to them that was balanced out with a good helping of the wholegrain mustard. It was a really satisfying dish.
The Smoke haddock and leek croquettes with lemon pepper aioli (£6) was the only dish I didn’t like. They just didn’t taste anything different to something you’d buy in a packet from a supermarket. There wasn’t a strong smokiness from the haddock, and the aioli was heavy on the pepper and not to my taste.
The Grilled octopus , chorizo, piquillo, mojo picon (£9) was another tasty dish, but it was let down by the fact that by the time we got to eating it, it had gone cold. The mojo picon sauce, is be made up of garlic, olive oil, chilli and paprika, and it had a good kick to it. With the addition of the chorizo though there was a lot of spicy paprika flavour, and it was a little too much for the octopus.
I wasn’t expecting the Porcini, kale, taleggio and truffle oil pizza (£10) to be so big. I thought it would be similar to the size you’d get at Polpo, so this was a pleasant surprise. The toppings all worked well, but I would have liked a little more of the cheese and kale, as the flavour forcing its way through was the truffle oil. I find this with a lot of restaurants who include truffle oil in a dish, they just always go overboard, as if lashing a dish with it will make the customer feel like they are getting a real bargain. And then restaurants that use real truffle, hold back as much of those shavings as possible. Can somebody not just find a middle ground.
To finish things off I had an Affogato (£5), which is of course great here because the Caravan coffee is so good. I would have like a little bit more of the coffee though, as this small amount wasn’t enough to melt the ice cream making the coffee-vanilla cream at the bottom.
I enjoyed the meal, but having scoffed it all within an hour I walked back with indigestion and feeling a little short changed having paid £83 for an hour’s entertainment. I’d chosen to go to Caravan for Valentine’s day because I didn’t want one of those crappy set meals, and instead wanted somewhere much more laid back. At Caravan Exmouth Market you always get this casual, laid back feel. Here it did feel that now that they have upped the scale of the operation, the practicalities of running a business like this have come into play more, and so that good old conveyor belt system has sadly been introduced. It’s a shame, because had we just been left to enjoy our meal, we no doubt would have been out within our allotted 2 hour slot.
Granary Building, Granary Square, 1, London N1C 4AA