Caravan King’s Cross

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.

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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.

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The meats on the Charcuterie board (£8) were all tasty, especially the spicy chorizo, and it was a fair portion for this price.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Food: 7.5/10

Service: 5/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Value: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

Granary Building, Granary Square, 1, London N1C 4AA

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Grain Store

I’d heard so much about Granary Square and Grain Store in particular, and walking across Regents Canal towards the lit fountains of the square surrounded by huge industrial style buildings, it is impressive, and no doubt will soon be a new buzzing neighbourhood in London.

Inside they have given a warehouse space a stunning make-over, and have managed to transform a large open space with raw pipes on show and high ceilings into a warm dining room. This is helped by the large open kitchen that is the focus point for the room and adds a burst of life. When we arrived at 8.30 on a Saturday night both the dining area and bar were full and it had a great vibe, although by the end of the night it had quietened off and that’s when the coldness seeped in a little and you become aware of how big the space is. Still though they have done wonders with the design.

The cocktail list is the right size- not too many so that you spend ten minutes choosing one. There was an exciting collection of around ten to choose from, all at £7.50.  The Cedar wood lemonade, was made up of Cedar wood Fino sherry, lemon juice and soda, and it came in a huge glass and tasted great. My partner had the Tuberose Collins, made from gin, fresh lemon, Tuberose infused syrup, soda, again served up in a huge glass, and lovely and refreshing. We then went for the share bottles of Camden Hells (£7.80 for two pints). This is a great novelty and something that I’ve only  previously had in burger joint New York. They go up to huge 4 pint jugs, ideal if you’re a group wanting to have a good drink.

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Everything was going so well. We were talking about how it would be the perfect place to take our visiting friends in a couple of weeks. We were a little early on our judgment. The menu came and my first thought was where is all the meat? It is certainly a bold statement having the meat as the last item, almost as an afterthought on the dishes. If this was the case then it better really deliver on flavour.

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We ordered some of the focaccia with dukkah and olive oil dip (£4) to fight our hunger (it was closing in on 9.45 now, 30 minutes after our booking and we hadn’t had anything). Although I do feel most restaurants should give you bread anyway, there was no taking it away from the quality of the bread. Lovely and light, and the rich green olive oil had a great flavour that was enhanced by the crushed nuts and spices that made up the dukkah.

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For starters we shared a salad of sprouting beans and seeds, miso aubergine, crispy citrus chicken skin and potato wafer (£6), which the waiter told us would be coming without the chicken skin. Would there be a replacement? No we were told. Maybe it was our fault that we still tried it, but I figured if it was still on the menu then it must be good. I was wrong. There was no flavour of miso at all, and the aubergines which had been pureed were hardly even a background note. All that I could taste was the beans and seeds. It was a bland dish, and maybe the citrus chicken skin would have completed it, which makes me think that a top restaurant shouldn’t serve a dish if it is missing a key ingredient.

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The other starter was courgette, broad bean and prawn falafel and raita (£6.50). There was too much sesame oil flavour to pick up the broad been and prawn, and instead they just tasted like the type of falafel you could pick up anywhere. It was average and needed a dressing on the salad to give it a lift.

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As we were still hungry we went for a hotdog with onion jam, citrus ketchup and jalapeño (£7.50) from the all-day menu. This was the worst dish of the night- I’d have been disappointed if I’d paid £3 for it at a burger van. Not only was it tiny  the hotdog didn’t even fill the whole bun!) but it was flavourless. It sounded a lot fancier than it was and even the meagre sprinkle of jalapeño failed to give it a kick.

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The disappointment continued into the main courses. I went for the dish of the day- beef congee (£9.50)- it was completely without flavour and although the few chunks of beef were succulent, it was under-seasoned and again a little lifeless. It was like having a savoury bowl of porridge. Hardly an exciting gastronomic experience.

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My partner chose the rabbit dauphinoise (£16.50) from the Josper oven. This was a very confused dish and the point of it was lost on both of us. The rabbit legs had been licked from the oven and had a lovely flavour, but the way they were presented was messy and the dauphinoise really needed some garlic or more cream and butter. It just didn’t work. The cucumber salsa that came on top was nice on it’s own, but far too cooling and neutral for a dish that lacked any hit of flavour.

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Perhaps the most unforgivable dish of the night was the portion of chips (£3.50) that were undercooked! This should never happen in a restaurant. Didn’t they try one before sending them out? At least the  bright green herb and garlic mayo that it came with was delicious.

For dessert I chose strawberry and balsamic jam and horseradish ice cream with nasturtium leaves (£5.50). The ice cream on it’s own had an interesting flavour and I can see how the hit of the horseradish could be a nice balance to the sweetness of the strawberry, but they were far too timid with it, so that it was overpowered and lost. The strawberry and balsamic jam was pleasant for a couple of spoonfuls, but soon became very sickly. It was like eating pot of strawberry jam, and was so sweet that I left the last few mouthfuls which is unheard for me when it comes to dessert.

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Much better was the white chocolate rice crispy, dark chocolate mousse and almond ice cream (£6). The range of textures really helped the dish and the almond ice cream was a lovely partner to the richness of the dark mousse. Although they could have been slightly more generous on the rice crispy.

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The staff were on the border of being neglectful, although they were friendly when they came. It took a little too long for us to be seated, and I hate it when you have to ask for a menu in a restaurant. It seemed like they were still finding their feet and this shouldn’t be the case having been open for a few months.

I really wish that I had loved Grain Store because the menu sounds exciting and the place looks great, but sadly it just didn’t excite in the way it had promised. I’ll come back to Granary Square, but it’ll be go to Caravan next door.

Food: 6/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Service: 7/10

Value: 6.5/10

Overall: 6/10

Stable St, London (Granary Square)

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