As you stroll down the Regent’s Canal and approach Caravel’s maroon barge-cum-restaurant, you might feel like it’s unlike other noteworthy boats in London’s history. There’s nothing high octane or 007ish about it—the gadgetry here extends to the kitchen whipping up an impossibly smooth chicken liver pâté. Nor is it anyway provocative; not like a tobacco-stained fascist on a flotilla. Caravel is a different kind of boat. It’s a bistro-ish restaurant that’s just as likely to serve jelly as it is a generous bowl of crab tagliatelle, and soon it will anchor itself as London’s most sought after date spot, platonic, romantic or otherwise.
Like us, you might get this feeling the moment you peer through a porthole and see a narrow(boat) dining room of flickering warmth inside. Caravel likes a candle. In the windows, on your table, above the kitchen. It is surely London’s most alluring floating fire hazard. This golden hue also gives the fun and unfussy food a kind of ethereal beauty. Has anyone ever proposed to a caviar-topped rösti or a crème anglaise-drenched caramelised banana tart before? Probably not. But this is a restaurant where dessert and more deserve your declarations of love.
Caravel’s menu, like its space, is compact. The flavours mix British and European and the starters, mains, and puddings don’t extend beyond a dozen or so options. Between four people it’s dangerously easy to lean back, do your best Tony Soprano impression, and say that you’ll ‘have the menu’. We’d recommend holding a Haribo-ish rum and coke old fashioned in your hand when you do this or, if you’re going for something a little more Carmela, a glass of crisp crémant. Given that cocktails are priced at £8.50 and the most expensive main—a pressed lamb dish that combines tender pulled meat with a crunchy, almost deep-fried exterior—is £21, everything that’s good about Caravel extends to its value.
With ten or so tables, refreshingly fair pricing (including wine), and delicious food that has no interest in pretension, don’t be surprised if Caravel becomes your first choice when you’re looking to woo someone. You’re sitting on a candlelit boat, drinking fizz and eating a duck-shaped croquette, after all. Combined these elements make for something memorable. But, even if Caravel wasn’t on a boat, this would still be a special restaurant. Because when has being serenaded ever required bells and whistles? All you really need is jelly and cream.
Potato Rösti, Sour Cream & Caviar
A canapé that brings Christmas, blinis, long meals and lots of laughter to mind. The perfect way to get you going.
No right-minded person should ever read a menu and see prawn toast as an anomaly. Be it in the rolling hills of Tuscany or the icy terrain of Reykjavík, if you see prawn toast on the menu you should simply think: ‘yes please’. These white slices—almost definitely bought at the shop around the corner—are so stuffed with juicy prawn meat it’s as if your own mother made them.
Chicken Liver Pâté
Once you’ve had one memorable pâté you may think you’ve had them all, but this chicken liver pâté is something else. Smooth to the point of being silken, any visiting plasterers to Caravel will no doubt look on in admiration as this meaty spread glides across their slice of toasted brioche.
Mussels, Fried Potatoes & Velouté
A bowl of food that mixes both skill and stodge, we love the fact that these mussels have been deshelled. It’s as if they want you to shovel it all up. The velouté, rich with white wine, garlic and sea-like saltiness, is lovely. It is a bit of a shame some of the crispy potatoes are soggy from sitting in it though.
Pressed Lamb, Courgette & Green Sauce
If you’re unfamiliar with the process of pressing food, then let us explain. It’s the cooking equivalent of sitting on your suitcase and forcing more inside than should really be possible. Only in this case, it’s slow-cooked and tender pre-shredded lamb that’s been pressed into a crispy rectangle
Blood Orange Jelly, Créme Diplomat & Honeycomb
If we were still ten years old (which, in many ways, we still are) the menu would read: Jelly and cream! Jelly and cream! Jelly and cream! Jelly and cream! Jelly and cream! Jelly and cream! Jelly and cream! Jelly and cream! Jelly and cream! And that’s all you really need to know.
Caramelised Banana & Almond Tart
If, like us, you are a fan of banana splits, banana and peanut butter milkshakes, banana fritters, banoffee pie and…Bananarama, then you will love this as much as we do.