The thought of a long haul flight is enough to conjure intense feelings of anxiety, stress and annoyance. Anyone over the height of 6 feet can probably relate to the absolute discomfort that cattle class seats provide on just about any aircraft. One of my hates is when that person behind you insists on grabbing your headrest every time they get out of their seat, jolting you back and forth. Or that short person infront with ample leg room that just has to have their seat reclined, sending my already jammed legs and feet up off the floor for the duration of the flight. I’m far from being a happy flyer.
To ease the pain we always do a stop-over somewhere in Asia to break the 20-odd hours to Europe or the UK yet somehow (hallelujah) our recent flight from KL to London wasn’t so bad. I actually had about 5cm between my knees and the seat infront, an absolute rarity and an absolute luxury and being a day flight made it all the more bearable.
Landing at Heathrow on a beautiful sunny afternoon we were greeted by Mr K’s sister, a long-time London resident, and after riding the courtesy bus to Acton Town (damn track work) and the tube to Leicester Square we decided to grab a black cab out to East Dulwich where they live.
After settling in with a few vino’s it didn’t take me long to quizz Miss K about restaurants that she may have been to lately. One place she did mention is Caravan, not somewhere she had been before but instead it was recommended to her by a colleague. I learned that Caravan opened earlier this year and the kitchen reins are held by New Zealand chef Miles Kirby after moving on from a stint at Peter Gordon’s – The Providors & Tapa Room. A Kiwi cooking in London is intriguing enough but when he’s worked with Peter Gordon you can’t help but expect a little bit of the fusion thing rubbing off on him.
Exmouth Market is not exactly what we were expecting. Somehow I had the visuals of Leadenhall Market in my mind, with its ornate 17th century roof. Instead we discover a semi-pedestrianised street lined with many restaurants such as the famed Moro and a bunch of outdoor food stands setting up for the weekday lunch crowd.
The Caravan fitout is a bit rustic, a bit industrial and a touch eclectic. The service counter is made up of sanded scaffolding planks and above it hangs a line of glass recycled cow milk bottles used as light shades. Downstairs in the basement near the kitchen you’ll even find where they roast their own beans to produce the well-crafted coffee I couldn’t help but be impressed with. Good to see London is embracing the flat white!
The all day menu has a number of small and large plates to choose from and seeing neither of us was overly hungry we opt for a couple of the small plates. Grilled sourdough with butter gets us going as we sit outside and soak in the bustle of the market and soon to follow is one dish I just had to get my teeth into. Blue cheese & peanut wontons (£4). The mere thought of these two ingredients had me salivating and as I crunch into the golden wonton skin I’m hit by the beautifully pungent cheese and earthy peanuts. Gosh, someone give me a tissue. It truly is a match made in heaven and the sweet ginger soy syrup provided adds a tangy note to the pleasurable crunch.
Another interesting thing on the menu, most of it is, has a curious name. Spicy pork filled honey glazed gypsy bun (£6). It’s a bit of a mouthful, and a tasty one at that. Not sure where the gypsy comes into it but what I’m thinking is that it’s much like one of my favourite Chinese snacks – char siu bao – those delicious steamed pork buns.
The Caravan take on it has a sprinkle of spice on the soft baked crust and the pulled pork inside is tender and a bit under-seasoned, though the zippy splodge of caramelised onion & ginger relish brought the flavours up to speed.
Rabbit and blood sausage is something I haven’t tried in one mouthful. Until now. Confit rabbit & smoky black pudding terrine with pickled nectarine & toast (£7). How could you not? It’s rich, it’s fibrous and very flavoursome and the occasional piece of blood pudding is a real treat. Loved the pickled nectarine, which is much like the pickled veg you get at Vietnamese restaurants.
What came with our coffees was as good as a shag. I kid you not. The ginger loaf (£6) comes warmed and is heavy in ginger yet light on the tongue and the bright crimson plums bring tartness where the dollop of velvety mascarpone, subtly flavoured with maple syrup, brings it all together. A true taste sensation.
Washed down with a perfect macchiato and smooth flat white and we’re done. If I was a local this is definitely somewhere I’d be regularly grabbing my coffee and even a long and lazy brunch. Love your work, Mr Kirby.