I had a plan: go to Caravan, buy some Acme coffee cup to go with my brand new espresso machine, buy some of that delicious Market Blend coffee beans that I got a taste of in FreeState Coffee and then go get some dinner elsewhere.
As it turned out, they don’t sell the coffee cups in the Exmouth Market branch. The menu looked enticing and the interior was moody but at the same time warm and inviting so we ended up staying for dinner. There were plenty of empty tables with padded benches in the main dining area but they were all reserved on this Friday evening so we sat by the bar area. Being a shorty, the high bar stools were too uncomfortable for me. The bar also got quite busy throughout the night so it was rather loud and too close for comfort at times. While service started off being friendly and efficient as the evening wore on and the restaurant got busier things started to slide. It got increasingly difficult to catch the attention of wait staff as the area got more crowded and it took a while for the food to get to us.
We were served a delightfully presented complimentary appertiser of salmon with artichoke and avocado; a spoonful of pickled goodness that was cooling and refreshing.
To drink, I had the hickory smoked maple syrup which tasted like a sweet whiskey minus the alcohol. It has got to be one of the weirdest soft drinks that have ever passed my lips.
I opted for a selection of small plates instead of one big main. I really wanted to try the ceviche but sadly they had ran out of scallops. Instead I had a very unhealthy trio: croquettes, lamb meatballs and soft shell crab. Of the three, the lamb meatballs was the clear winner. Served with a sharp apricot cous cous and refreshing tzatziki to balance the meatiness of the meltingly soft lamb meatballs. A sprinkling of almonds added a crunchy texture.
The other two dishes were a little disappointing. The chorizo croquette was accompanied with a saffron mayo dip; a necessity, if you ask me, as it helped to balance the greasy and salty croquette. It was so salty I could feel my mouth dry up (and I wasn’t happy washing it down with the hickory smoked beverage; the combination of all these flavours really confused my taste buds).
A soft shell crab and kohlrabi salad was served swimming in salty nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce). The nuoc mam should have been balanced out more with citrus juice and sugar before chucking it all over the crispy crab and crunchy kohlrabi sticks. I’ve been eating Vietnamese food all my life and this fusion dish could have been much better.
My sister ordered the Yorkshire longhorn sirloin schnitzel. I’ve not had a good schnitzel ever. I find them dry and dull and this version was no different.
She did get a fantastic dessert though; the affogato was divine. I should have known; just a couple of weeks ago I was sat in FreeState coffee admiring the delicious flat white made from Caravan’s very own Market Blend.
I felt a massive pang of food envy that was just made worst when I was tucked in to the butterscotch blondie with roasted figs, raspberry ice cream and cinnamon syrup. It was the magical word “cinnamon” that grabbed my attention and even though I hate figs I still got the dish purely because cinnamon is my drug. Much to my disappointment there was just a trace of the cinnamon syrup on the dish. As I chewed the blondie I felt like it would be similar to chewing on a flip flop. It was far too hard.
So I ended up going away empty handed and not entirely satisfied with my meal. But this wasn’t the end of the journey. I still had to get my hands on those lovely coffee cups. The following weekend, I went to Caravan at King’s Cross. It was around lunch time and it was rammed. I had a mission and frankly was not all that interested in the food. I had a flat white a slice of ginger cake. I felt that more care and attention was taken at FreeState as the flat white here was just not as impressive (even though the same blend was used). The ginger cake was laced with cardamom and was very sweet but unfortunately the sponge was a little dry. The hubby had a delicious orange and almond cake and all the better that the sponge was moist.
Service here was just as slow as in the Exmouth Market branch and we even had to pull up our own chairs to sit near the sink with our knees hitting the counter. The space for folks just here for coffee is just not well thought out. I spotted the beautiful cups displayed near the back and finally got what I came for.
I might give the brunch at Caravan King’s Cross a try in the future (there are many folk raving about it on social media) but the main reason I’ll keep coming back is for the delicious coffee beans. ∎
(Photography: Sarah Chu for Bubbobar)