15 August 2011

Join the Caravan

Small plates of pleasure in London’s Exmouth Market

Working in Farringdon over 20 years ago I used to pay the occasional visit to Exmouth Market, especially when a greasy spoon was called for. This was in the days before The Eagle, around the corner, created the gastro pub, when the Quality Chop House on Farringdon Road was in sad decline and the best thing in the market was a fabulous little off-license selling very old single malts and Polish Bison Grass vodka. Since those drab days Exmouth Market, alongside its neighbours in Clerkenwell, Smithfield and Farringdon have been transformed. Twee furniture boutiques, shops that sell hand crafted greetings cards and of course restaurants now dominate the street.

Sam & Sam Clark’s Moro is largely responsible for the Exmouth dining transformation, towing other entrepreneurial restaurateurs in its wake. One of the latest is Caravan. Describing itself as a cafe, bar and coffee roastery, the premises sit on the corner of Exmouth Market and Farringdon Rd, and on a warm summer’s evening, make a superb early dining location prior to a trip to Sadler’s Wells a few minutes away. Tables spill onto the street, large bi-fold doors expose a clean efficient but warm dining room with cheerful, friendly and heavily tattooed staff (as is the modern way). Sitting outside amongst the trendy bustle of the street with a menu combining dishes and flavours from around the world our party of five chose a selection of small plates.

Amongst the excellent were Aubergine and Onion Bhaji, Tomato Jam and Yoghurt; soft, warm, slightly spicy. Delightfully salted, very tiny Sichuan Pepper Baby Squid had me elbowing my friends out of the way to mop up the last few. Serrano Ham came with smoked almonds, ginger wine figs, and the richest spicy La Bandiera olive oil, the whole dish melting with sweet, salty combinations. Those dishes that were still well executed yet not particularly memorable were the enticing sounding Deep-Fried Duck Egg, Capers, Olives and Anchovy Toast, a good rich egg but the olives and toast didn’t add much. A gypsy bun filled with Hoisin Lamb was pleasant as was the grilled tomatillo, feta, chilli, kikones and cumin. (Kikones by the way are salted corn kernels).

What made us all smile, apart from the sweet Camden Town Brewery beer and a lovely Pinot Blanc was the melt in the mouth Braised Beef Cheek with rich Espresso Mole sauce, Rosemary, Polenta and Plantain; the incredibly affable service, beautiful big bright green olives and quite remarkably lovely Cornbread.
Caravan 11-13 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QD
Tel: 0208 78338115

Dancing Fela lacks the Afrobeat

 Fela has been much praised and garlanded with awards and I can see why. Lively, colourful, a mixture of music, dance and politics, Fela tells the story of Fela Kuti, Nigerian  Afrobeat pioneer, polygamist and thorn in the side of the ruling regime. There is an awful lot of fantastic dancing. There is not enough of the music. Snatches of songs played by a superb band, tease the audience prior to dancing erupting once more. Frankly its a bit exhausting. I know its Sadlers Wells but songs like Zombie deserve to be heard in full, especially when leading man Adesola Osakalumi is so compelling as Fela.

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