Australians like to claim New Zealand’s best and brightest as their own. Take Russell Crowe as an example, when he is winning Oscars he is Australian but when he is throwing phones at hotel receptionists we quickly describe him as a Kiwi. Continuing on in that grand tradition I would formally like to claim the New Zealand owned and staffed restaurant Caravan as being Australian. What a shame it is not as I would have great patriotic pride in such a cracking little restaurant.
Almond cous cous and aubergine (£12)
Caravan is right on the corner of Exmouth Market with large windows looking out perfect for people watching and being watched. It’s moodily lit at night-time with lights dangling by wire from the ceiling like microphones and there is a general feeling of bonhomie with a random stuffed peacock surveying the dining room with a beady eye. I went there for a catch up dinner with my friends Claire and Mike and we immediately felt relaxed thanks to the no-nonsense but friendly service.
Char-grilled whole gilt head bream (£12)
The menu is a virtual tour around the world embracing the current zietegist of “small plates” dining. There are a handful of “large plates” on the menu but ordering from the small plates gives the best experience of chef Miles Kirby’s fusion style of cooking which he honed at that other great London Kiwi run restaurant, Providores. As most of the small plates came in servings of three we fortuitously had the perfect amount of people to share the food, so if possible I would advise eating at Caravan with three or six people to save arguments.
Chocolate and espresso pudding (£ 7)
Here’s what I would order again: Goats curd with butternut squash (£5.50)was a great pairing with the creamy curd cutting through the sweetness of the slow roasted squash. The peppered tuna (£8) was seared and then thinly sliced to reveal the delicate rosy pink flesh of the fish and the dish had a contemporary almost Japanese feel to it. Cured salmon (£7) was draped in delicate slivers across the plate and was teamed with some sesame cucumber and rye crumbs which gave a bit of texture and bite. The gypsy bun (£6) was the stuff of fast food dreams. Filled with spiced pork it was almost a riff on a dim sum style pork bun but with a honey glazed crispy bun. The knock-out dish though was the oxtail (£7.50) which had been slow cooked to the point it almost dissolved at the slightest touch and was served on top a pool of creamy polenta.
Here’s what I would avoid. The falafels (£4.50) which were dry and fairly uninspiring and the gypsy potatoes (£3) were drowned in an overwhelming creamy coleslaw. The dessert of ginger loaf (£6) had a great ginger kick to it but I felt it needed a sauce or jam to accompany it to stop it being too dry. The Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian white wine (£29.50) that we drank to accompany our meal was dry and crisp but a little uninspiring so I would probably choose another bottle if I returned
There’s not really much to complain about though and a lot to get excited about including the complimentary soup amuse bouche (delicious and a nice touch) and the coffee roaster in the basement of the restaurant which means that a return visit to check out the brunch and coffee seems inevitable. Caravan serves exactly the sort of light, sunny, modern food that I love to eat. If you are a Kiwi it will make you feel very proud indeed.
Details: 11-13 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell EC1R 4QD (Ph 020 7833 8115) Tube: Farringdon
If you liked reading this you might like my reviews of other Exmouth market restaurants – Moro and Dollar Grills and Martinis.