Caravan on Exmouth Market

Triumphant cornbread at Caravan

For centuries great caravans crossed the shimmering sands of the Sahara, laden wonders bound for the great trading cities of the Mediterranean: Istanbul, Tripoli, Venice and Cairo. It was a hazardous and hot route and inevitably some of the goods didn’t quite make it.

And that was what happened when we ate at Caravan, a bar-restaurant kind of place the in foodie oasis of Exmouth market. There were some winners and some duds. Some humble dishes that revealed wonders, and some exotic sounding creations that were a let down.

The day we went in, Autumn was settling in. It rained, there was a cold breeze and leaves were swirling along the street. Yhe only thing I could think of whe I got through the door was getting a hot drink.

All the good things I’ve heard about the coffee here didn’t quite prepare me for the reality. Coffee in London is so often burnt, bitter, badly made and pricy. Not this. This wee glass of caramel coloured latte was magnificant. Smooth, nutty and almost lightly spiced, these were superb beans roast to perfection and made by a proper barista.

Veal schnitzel at Caravan
Veal Schnitzel

The restaurant itself is very antipodean in character, no baked mud walls here, it’s all stripped wood and white walls. A simple and relaxing space. The menu encourages lingering over a coffee with a multitude of dishes small and large. And like any chest of treasures from distant climes there were all manner of intriguing titbits.

Four of us managed to get a pretty good spread considering we were only stopping in for a quick lunch. We ranged from small – cornbread and grilled sourdough – to large, squid pancake and veal schnitzel.

The cornbread was superb. Loose crumbed and sweetly flavoured, with little nuggets of corn embedded in the slices. It had been sliced and then lightly fried to add a crispy edge. Perfect. As was grilled sourdough bread, springy, stretchy and with just the hint of a sour edge.

The salmon was decent – a tasty piece of fish, but not outstanding, I’ve had just as good from a deli. But good nonetheless. Butternut squash with curd cheese was bright and colourful, but curiously devoid of the deep sweet taste it usually displays. Maybe the problem was the curd which was pretty uninspiring.

The squid pancake
The squid and octopus pancake

Things picked up somewhat with the veal schnitzel which was tender and tasty and well cooked. But then we dived into the intriguing sounding pancake. Pieces of squid and octopus cooked in a thick and springy batter, with some sort of strong Tonkatsu sauce with something mysteriously mayonnaisey squirted over.

It was a mess. The worst of what fusion food can be - of an okonomyaki, a clash of flavours and textures fighting for doinance. The squid and octopus were a little over cooked and bouncy. What little flavour they had was completely overwhelmed by the sauces. The whole thing left me with a weird taste in my mouth.

So my trip to the Caravan bazaar was well a little, well, bizarre. It’s rare to get such a mixed bag in a single meal. But at least it showed that they are unafraid to experiment. So, I’ll be back, perusing the menu with a beady eye. Because when it was good (coffee and cornbread), it was very very good. But when it was bad…

Caravan, 11-13 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QD. 020 7833 8115

17 Responses to “Caravan on Exmouth Market”

  1. Ute@hungryinLondon

    Wiener Schnitzel and okonomyaki in one meal at the same restaurant is funny but not funny ha ha… more like the weird funny… strange concept.

  2. The Grubworm

    @Ute & @meemalee – d’oh! *slaps head* of course, it was meant to be okonomiyaki. It never even crossed my mind, mostly because it didn’t fit with the other dishes on the menu. It really stood out in taste and texture terms too. Shame, because some of the rest was superb. I want to try the brunch because it was the brunchy-lunchy dishes that came out best, by a country mile.

  3. Mr Noodles

    They did seem to go a bit sauce crazy on the pancake/okonmyaki thing! It looks like the kinda dish that might go down well when you’re drunk but perhaps not for lunch.

    That said, I’d still like to go here – it’s been on my list since it opened – as from your review and others, there’s more good than bad in this mixed bag.

  4. Leluu

    The cornbread as you said was amazing. My schnitzel – it was actually quite bland and nothing to shout about in my opinion. It was fun how we went for a mix bag and thats what great about sharing food with food lovers. Great write up ! x

  5. Gin and Crumpets

    I work at a studio near Caravan every month and every month I think I should go there for breakfast and base don your review of the cornbread and coffee, I still think breakfast is a good idea. Maybe not the tentacley okonomyaki, though.

  6. The Grubworm

    @Mr Noodles – yup, it was all just too much. I’d definitely still go there though, the simple stuff is done exceedingly well. You just ahve to pick carefully.

    @Leluu – was it not great either? Oh dear, i was going on the memory of a small taste (problem was that I tried Mr Noodle’s veal at BobBobRicard that same day, and that was superb)… Never the less, it was good to sample all that stuff. I do want to give it another chance as the cornbread really was that good.

  7. The Grubworm

    @Gin and Crumpets – you must be pretty close to Clerkenwell then? Maybe we should meet up for brunch there one day? And yup, I’d stay clear of the tentacles and head straight for the bread and coffee.

  8. Greedy Diva

    I’m still desperate to go to Caravan – good coffee and cornbread, say no more. (It was my staple breakfast in Melbourne for years). However, your meal does sound odd! I think I’ll steer clear of that okonomyaki.

  9. The Grubworm

    @Greedy Diva – mmmm, Melbourne brekkie. It was Australia that opened my eyes to decent coffee y’know. More so than the states or Europe. Although the USA has a breakfasts to die for – cornbread, biscuits & gravy, all those eggs. *sigh*

  10. catty

    oh BOOOO that the squid and octopus pancake turned out so badly, one look at the photo and I was drooling! Shame. Mental note though: must hit up Abeno Too soon to get some good Okonomiyaki! Anyway, I hear a lot of good things about Caravan, so thanks for the 50-50 review, I’ll know what NOT to order when I go!

  11. Thea

    Thanks for the balanced review. Been meaning to breakfast there ever since I heard about the chorizo and eggs. Will do this now I know there is good coffee to be found there particularly as I agree on the coffee point – it was living in Melbourne as a naive 18 year old that (amongst other things) revealed good coffee to me!

  12. The Grubworm

    @catty – yep Boo indeed. Still, that cornbread… mmm-mmm!

    @Thea – oh boy, the coffee was good. I think they roast their own beans in the basement. It is really good. The chorizo and eggs sound ace.

  13. Mzungu

    Finally managed to goto Caravan for brunch the other Sunday. Really good vibe and pretty damn good food. Coffee was so so, kinda disappointed with it, had to have 2 just to make sure.

  14. The Grubworm

    @Mzungu – glad to hear the food was good, but the coffee? Oh no! That’s a real shame. When I went there the latte was on a par with anything I had drunk at Pitch 42 or Nude Espresso. Shame. What food did you have?

  15. Jo

    I’m glad you rate their coffee do highly…Caravan coffee makes me very happy! I’m lucky enough to work just around the corner…it’s becoming a bit of an addiction!

  16. The Grubworm

    @Jo – lucky you! It would be a great place to pop in for a coffee and snack, or indeed lunch!

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