I have an enduring hatred of caravans as a result of having sat behind too many as they crawl to the holiday camps where their occupants go to vegetate. However, I just came across one I like -- a lot. Caravan in Exmouth Market is a buzzing, intimate space that provides essential breakfast services to countless Clarkenwellites (Clarkenwellians?), lunch to the week time office crowd, dinner to the tourist trade and brunch to anyone who can get up early on the weekend.
Our visit was on a Monday evening so we didn’t think we would need a reservation. We were right, but only just. Virtually every one of the tightly-spaced tables was occupied. This place buzzes but delivers its wares super efficiently.
A “small plate” of pan-fried mackerel (£8), topped with crème fraîche and accompanied by thick-sliced balsamic pickled cucumbers made for an expressive starter. A glass of 2014 Catarratto from Sicily by Ciello (£5) had the acid and grassy minerality to stand up to it (mackerel is a toughie). Crisp Soft Shell Crab (£9) came with batonettes of kohlrabi, a topping of peanuts, and nuoc cham (the name for a category of dipping sauces in Vietnam) in the dish rather than on the side.
For our “large plates “ we went with the specials of sea bass (excellent) and roasted Norwegian cod (also excellent). Interestingly, large plates are a small part of the menu here. It is as though management is saying “try more of our large selection of small plates”. And they are worthy of the attention with a wide range of ingredients.
Puddings are diverse as well with affogato, chocolate beetroot cake, crème fraîche delice, golden syrup cake and coconut rice pudding. All made in house. Plus perhaps the best reason to have dessert here, in-house roasted coffee. As well as roasting daily, Caravan regularly changes their range of beans. Even if you don’t eat here, it is worthwhile making it your source of coffee.
The drinks list is extensive in cocktails, beer, wine and spirits. Including house-made tonics and sodas. The wine lover, in particular, will find ‘off the wall’ selections here from all the major producing countries plus England, Georgia, and Greece. Beers come from as close as Tottenham (Beavertown Brewery) and Camden (Camden Town Brewery).
It is fitting for Caravan to describe itself as a “Restaurant, Bar & Roastery” but it is also a lot more. Most visitors to London will find the Kings Cross branch more accessible. Much will be the same there but be aware that it is larger and reviewers say that it has a less intimate feel. Maybe another reason to head to Exmouth Market.