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Give this classy Caravan a spin

Creative, original food at fair prices, as eclectic spirit of legendary DJ lives on at former BBC Radio One building

23 October, 2018 — By Tom Moggach

Ordering a meal at Caravan is often a leap into the unknown

NIP downstairs to discover the hidden history of Caravan, a new opening in Fitzrovia. This scintillating and grand restaurant inhabits a building once home to BBC Radio One.

In the basement you’ll spy the recording studio where John Peel recorded his last show. It’s sensibly still intact – reinvented as a private dining room. Admire the gleaming kitchen installed behind plate glass windows, previously the site of their mixing desks; racks of vintage vinyl line the walls.

Upstairs, the eclectic spirit of this legendary DJ lives on in the restaurant menu. If you’ve never eaten at Caravan, this mini chain is renowned for its mind-boggling menus. (“Well-travelled” is the phrase in their publicity.)

Asian pear, for example, is matched with Dutch cheese and a pesto pounded with Thai basil; crispy wontons, served with sticky soy, get stuffed with stilton and peanuts.

Ordering a meal here is often a leap into the unknown – you can’t predict how raw ingredients will transmogrify onto the plate.

Launched in 2010, Caravan started with a cramped, shouty site in Exmouth Market. Now it runs five buzzing restaurants across the capital – and this might be their biggest yet. This venue near Great Portland Street tube is almost aircraft hangar in size, yet clever design has kept the space intimate. A long bar runs along one side, where staff concoct classic cocktails and offbeat drinks such as “tepaches”, a type of Mexican beverage made with fermented pineapple.

Other tipples include pomegranate kombucha, lacto-fermented raspberry soda and terrific single-estate coffee, a legacy of the business’s Antipodean roots.

A vast trough of tropical houseplants divides the bar from the main dining room, which is partitioned into three sections and seats more than a hundred.

Staff are sharp and charming. To kick off, I ordered a “shim”, a short drink served in a tall, delicate goblet. The “Adonis” is a shake-up of oloroso sherry, sweet vermouth and orange bitters.

The intricate, all-day menu is predominantly snacks and small plates, priced around £5-£9, with half a dozen larger main courses and a selection of pizzas.

The vegetarian dishes were sensational. Of the four salads on offer, we chose a bowl of adzuki beans, slippery miso aubergine, finely shredded ginger sauerkraut, sprouted chickpeas and a dip of blitzed tofu and edamame. This was a heavenly jumble of textures – a masterpiece, in fact.

Pan-fried turnip cake was far better than it sounds: gummy and chewy, sweet and sour – with kick from tahini black vinegar, radish and chilli relish.

We slurped spicy mussels, “tomahawk” lamb chops and only flinched at an odd, unpalatable dish of raw sea bream smothered in sesame seeds.

This Fitzrovia branch is also trialling a new Caravan-To-Go section, where you can grab coffees, pastries, salads, soups and fancy sarnies.
Caravan is a class act. Open from breakfast to dinner, it excels in serving up creative, original food at fair prices. This Fitzrovia branch is ravishing, too. I’ve already booked to go back.

Caravan Fitzrovia
152-156 Great Portland Street, W1W
0203 963 8500
www.caravanrestaurants.co.uk

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