You go to London in search of a place for your younger brother to stay during his MA. Negotiation pants on and checklist in hand, you head over to the estate agents to see about some overpriced rooms relatively close to his university.
Having lived in Norwich for nearly two years, your eyes nearly pop out of your face when you see that the rooms on offer, a little larger than the size of your main bathroom, cost nearly twice the rent you pay back home. After summarily establishing you had better consider your options, you leave with your brother to find someplace comforting to eat.
It is too late for breakfast and too early for lunch, so you Google ‘Brunch near me’ and find Caravan in your locale.
Whiplash: drum solos, toxic dedication, shouty instructors and self-destructive obsession.
Yes, the film and its theme come to mind; Erskine’s rendition of Tizol and Ellington’s jazz masterpiece. The music is in your head, the double bass push, and you start to move quicker through the bustling city in rhythm with the beat. Your brother wonders why the hell you are walking so quickly. You tell him you’ll are going to Caravan.
For him a camper van comes to mind, he is confused but nevertheless shrugs to himself and goes with the flow.
You follow Google Maps to where Caravan is meant to be and see a sign for Granary Square. You don’t know that Caravan and other restaurants reside in a building called the Granary Square so walk around like a lost tourist.
You think: perhaps the entrance is from the back and you go around again – the definition of insanity. The building is larger than it looks from the front and outside. Dishoom, an Indian restaurant, is preparing for the lunch rush. A couple has stopped to play table tennis at the arbitrary table placed at the centre of the square. You turn to the right and finally chance upon the entrance to Caravan.
Queue in trumpets.
The place is massive. A large industrial space with long tables and grey chairs, a central bar, low hanging dimly lit bulbs, naked ceiling, metal mesh, and red metal beam-like columns holding the place together. You wonder why it is so empty and then quickly realise it is because of how nice it is outside.
You walk the length of the room and wait to be seated at the front. It is a little too hot for your liking but you run with it. It was very busy outside. In the time it took you to circle around and through, others driven by the Caravan-call have settled and put their orders through.
On the menu, there are the toasts, the fruits, some grains and eclectic full plate options. You go over each item and ponder the combinations of ingredients in your head waiting for your body to respond to your imagination.
No one names their dishes anymore or bothers to describe them in cogent sentences. Just lists now, everything stripped back, of ingredients that some enigmatic and cultured. You like the sound of hot-smoked salmon but aren’t sure about mung beans and furikake (no clue what that is). The image you have of spicy cornbread is a good one as you trawl through your mental library. You’ll take pork belly with anything and outright reject the fry up (always a no to anything you can easily make at home – although that list is getting shorter by the day).
You give the menu a once over, a twice over, thrice, not in very much time at all.
Buttermilk hotcake sounds warm and fluffy with berry jam and smooth almond butter textured by sunflower seeds (you don’t really fancy it today but maybe another time); Oh yes, you liked the sound of fried cornbread with chipotle mayo, and of course you want the added chorizo; skip; skillet eggs skip; Hash, chorizo and hollandaise, hmmm, a definite maybe, but you do not want to order two dishes with chorizo; Pork belly, yes; where is the salmon? Back a space or two and you’ve found it. No need for sides.
Your brother is silent most of this time because it is not his first rodeo. He’ll express generally what he prefers and then hands you the steering wheel. Waiter is hailed. Pork belly, salmon and eggs, fried cornbread, a flat white and a jug of tap water, please.
Oh no, no pork belly? All out already? You notice the rush coming in and feel pressured to make another decision on the spot because the moody waitress keeps looking over you. Food flashes before your eyes; a deer in headlights; a film of abject velocity; you smile and say…green skillet eggs, please! The waitress nods and rushes off.
Your brother’s look of confusion reminds you of what you’ve just done. It is so busy now that you’d rather stick with the eggs than chase after a member of staff clearly run off her feet. Heck, maybe the dis will turn out to be a revelation.
The day’s game plan is gone over again and you spend the rest of the time catching up with all that has been missed. From sharing a room with your brother in childhood to living miles away as adults, it is important to reconnect the ties that bind.
Food comes over eventually and you take the obligatory photographs. It has become part of the ritual, so only once it is complete, dining can commence with the fullest vigour. The first few bites of each plate, however, are slow and tentative, ponderous even. Senses are peaked and primed, analysing, observing, understanding. The experience is added and compared to your vast library of victual experience and is slotted someplace to be forgotten or remembered. The fried cornbread is scrumptious, the salmon-eggs on sourdough brilliant in simplicity, but the skillet eggs were most definitely a soggy flop (no two ways about it, crap happens).
In hindsight, you should have ordered the hash or the hotcake but didn’t take the time to think when the pork belly fell through. Schoolboy error, nothing ventured nothing gained, insert idiom here.
It was the kind of meal you enjoyed in parts but on the whole, didn’t match the build-up. It’s not Caravan’s fault of course, it is yours for imbuing the neat and trendy place with your own added meanings and symbolisms setting it up for disappointment. Your brother enjoyed it just fine.
You’d probably go back again, order more astutely and have a better experience. But a part of you remembers all the other times you’ve made similar instinctive requests and they’ve paid off. Menu’s in spectacular restaurants do not tend to have bum dishes so you hesitate at the thought of return.
Next time someone talks about Caravan, I’ll probably still think of the music in Whiplash, or the caravan my mate bought in Scratby before I remember the restaurant in London.
Location: 1 Granary Square, Kings Cross, London N1C 4AA