Once I watched this TV show about interior design where some designer from Hong Kong or Singapore blabbed on about how ‘industrial’ settings were so very hip and trendy, interspersed with footage of installed ‘exposed’ brick, clothes racks masquerading as soot-smeared piping and tiny apartment closets pretending to be the least spacious factory warehouses.
It was, to put it gently, aggravating. But on entering Caravan, past the rather modest entrance to one side of the facade, I kind of get that designer’s point. The real problem is that an industrial setting does best in an industrial setting, the likes of which don’t exist back home. When you have a spot like Caravan’s – in a Grade II listed building which was once a vast granary, supplied by barges coming up Regent’s Canal – the idea and the reality fit like mortise and tenon.
For Caravan is a very handsome restaurant. Long, solid wood tables, flanked by comfortable but clanking chairs, stretch into the distance; pillars are steel, bearing a lofty, wood ceiling. And of course the brickwork is exposed. They couldn’t not have the look – that’d be against regulations.
Within the vast space there is plenty of room for everything – a long bar, their in-house coffee roasting operation – and the same is true of the menu. On both visits I head in round breakfast time, and the menu is a lovely mix of virtue and decadence. Smoothies and fruits come up alongside slightly breathless ingredient lists, where the meat isn’t just bacon either.
Over two visits I have two breakfasts which look quite similar, variations on a theme of ‘red sauce with eggs and sausages in’. But the similarity is mostly superficial. In one version – closer to North Africa and the shakshuka – baked eggs, the whites still wobbly, lounge in a sauce which pairs tomato with sweet peppers and harissa. Taken with a little Greek yoghurt as an accent, it’s lovely, and so are the slender sticks of merguez sausage, coarse and a little hard and very happily lamb-y.
The other breakfast is more on the north side of the Mediterranean, though with some surprises – a faint florality floats out of the tomato and bean sauce, and I can’t place it until I bite into an old frenemy, the Sichuan pepper. In small quantities, and along with a delicate mojo verde that’s mostly parsley, it keeps the sauce from being too acidic or plodding. Chorizo is, well, chorizo, which means it’s good. The one misstep for both these dishes, though, is the sourdough toast. In both cases it’s hard enough to use as a self-defence weapon, resistant to all soaking.
So much for the decadent breakfasts – but the most intriguing thing I try is one of the good-for-you plates. A dome of clotty, off-white coconut yoghurt forms the base, covered with satsumas, sparkling pomegranates and grapes. So far, so virtuous, except the grapes pack concentrated sugar and a hint of ginger; it turns out they’ve been roasted lightly, then tossed with rum syrup. This makes a good contrast to the flat heft of coconut oil in the yoghurt.
Smoothies are another important element here, though with varying success. A thick and gratifying banana smoothie is mostly interesting for having spirulina, which adds a dirty green hue but not too much flavour. That is probably for the best. More varied, but arguably less successful, is the ‘sweet potato pie’. Despite having a sweet potato base, the use of orange juice steals the show, which rather diminishes the whole thing.
And there are some hits, too, in terms of experience. The sharing tables look cool, right up to the moment that a toddler decides to use it as a drum and pounds on the wood with a fork. And because of the vast space and hard surfaces, sound echoes and melds into an indistinct roar that takes a little effort to tune out. Industry has its disadvantages, as we well know. But industriousness, of the sort that Caravan displays – in its prompt staff, in the thoughtful nudges contained within each dish – that benefits everyone.
Caravan King’s Cross
1 Granary Building, Granary Square
London N1C 4AA
Mon – Fri: 8am – 11.30am, noon – 10.30pm
Sat: 10am – 4pm, 5pm – 10.30pm
Sun: 10am – 4pm