London restaurant, Restaurant review, Uncategorized

CARAVAN KINGS CROSS – Suggest You Camp Elsewhere

It worries me that this restaurant was established in 2012…and it’s still trading. Not only trading, it’s doing incredibly well. Not satisfied with packing out the Old Granary Store at Kings Cross from dawn till dusk, they have since opened a further three sites; Exmouth Market, Bankside and the City.

Lauded by Time Out as ‘one of the best’ for brunch, has seemingly inspired a wave of vanilla diners that are unfamiliar with what a good brunch looks like. At least someone seems happy with it, as the staff working there certainly aren’t.

Our first interaction set the tone for the afternoon, as we received a welcome as severe as the fringe that the hostess was sporting. Without flinching or removing her eyes from her screen she told me the wait would be 45 minutes. With that she handed me a bag of coffee beans and told me to wait at the bar.

As well as being the main villain of this piece, the purpose of the bag of coffee beans is supposedly used to identify hungry patrons impatiently waiting for a table. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they came up with this idea. How a small bag of coffee with a three digit number on is helping the staff swiftly expedite guests to the empty tables is mystifying – if it were to spontaneously combust when your table was ready they may be in with half a chance.

bag with numbers

During our wait for a table I approached the bar to order some drinks, and my appearance seemed to distress the bartender. Further distress was caused after requesting two drinks which appeared to be the zenith of her bad day in the office. Once I submitted my order she turned on her heel and marched to the till, pausing only to yell at me to enquire on my coffee bag code. After yelling back my numerical identify she informed me the drinks would be right over.

Cue fifteen minutes later a bewildered member of the team was pacing the floor with a lukewarm flat white attempting to track down a three digit number on a bag of beans. She seemed genuinely broken by the process. I took her out of her misery and informed her that is was probably for me, and also that ultimately her shift will end, and she will be able to leave this place, but alas I imagine her dreams are plagued with small bags of coffee containing three digit numbers.

A full hour of standing with a bag of beans on my head, I decided to go back to the severe fringe on the door. Quelle surprise, they had been trying to find our number, and our table had been ready some time ago. A frustrating admission, as now the only place to seat us was a sharing table by the door. I wasn’t prepared to challenge as I was so hungry that eating the stupid bag of coffee was starting to seem a feasible option.

Sitting down and perusing the menu further fuelled my agitation. If discovering new ways to describe salmon and eggs was the primary deliverable of this restaurant then they would succeed with flying colours. Menu descriptions were unfathomable and pretentious. Example; ‘Seasoned brown rice, sesame salmon, avocado, miso mayo, mung beans, pickled ginger, furikake. The reality was somewhat different, and as such was sent back upon delivery.

Poached eggs on sour dough was passable fare, but not worth a sixty minute wait, additionally we should have omitted the smashed avocado side, as it was over processed and more reminiscent of exorcist slime rather than anything that once resembled a vegetable.

Underlining my utter distaste for this restaurant was the Jackson 5 soundtrack. I love a bit of MJ, but there’s a time and a place.

Attempting to search for the positive I must give a nod to the coffee. Regardless of the lukewarm offering we received on the day, Caravan does great things with the beans by roasting their own and farming it out to whoever wants to buy it. So my recommendation would be to buy a bag and enjoy it in the comfort of your own abode. Personally, I will shudder when I remember the foil packaging, because who wants to be just a number?

Brunch for two with a glass of fizz £60. Breakfast menu: 8am – 11.30am, Mon-Fri. All Day menu: 12noon – 10.30pm, Mon-Fri & Sat from 5pm. Brunch menu: 10am – 4pm, Sat & Sun. No reservations.  020 7101 7661. 

London restaurant, Restaurant review, Uncategorized

THE MARKSMAN Hackney – Sharp Shooting East End Publicans

I’ve had the Marksman in my sights for a while, but have been unsuccessful in ticking it off until now. One of my previous failed attempts was due to a bank holiday kitchen closure, and as it happens that afternoon wasn’t marred by disappointment, but fortunate discovery as we decided on Bella Vita at Broadway market, and happened to taste the most sublime crab ravioli in London, heavenly pockets of crustacean royalty encased in fresh sheets of pasta – all enough to ensure the first choice of venue was the last thing on my mind.

The Marksman public house has been a trading pub since 1869, and as you can imagine has a legion of session drinkers not quite willing to let go of their favourite watering hole, so on the one hand you have a thirty something Hackney foodie coming to sample a casual red mullet with fennel and bergamot sat next to Ernie who is content to sit for hours sinking flagons of IPA. This clash of cultures is one of the most endearing parts of the Marksman – even if it does seem that Ernie has probably been here since 1869.

Sitting down to pore over the menu, and the small yet focussed selection of dishes on offer threw up numerous possibilities, so between three of us we ordered a small smattering of starters to share and plumped for our own main courses. Opening up we had some crispy pig skin, which was aerated and satisfyingly crunchy…the piggy popcorn gets thumbs up from us all. Cornish crab was the next to arrive and was the disappointment from round one, it was a little too subtle and was crying out for a kick of citrus, and had the unwelcome addition of quite a bit of shell. Rounding off we had clams which were pleasant enough with a sauce bordering on a classic marinière style, but with more boozy bite and less cream.

My main course of treacle cured pork belly was one of the more accomplished dishes of the day. Slow cooked and juicy it tasted remarkably like a frankfurter, which was wholly unexpected but certainly pleasing, as was the baby onion garnish which reminded me of pickled silver skin onions and had the same palate awakening sourness, coupled with a breath taking dollop of homemade mustard meant this dish had it all. The fried potato side dish was equally rather special, imagine a deep fried dauphinoise, utterly decadent and the only time we sat in complete silence throughout the entire lunch. The Spring green side was underwhelming in comparison and desperately needed seasoning.

marksman pork belly

Brown butter and honey tart was ordered for pudding and even thinking about it now is inducing large jowls of saliva to droop from my mouth. Inconceivably divine, rich and creamy, with an almost digestive biscuit savouriness to the base. It lasted 5 seconds.

Attention to detail at The Marksman is excellent, from the stark white plates and bowls to the mismatched antique cutlery and the parchment paper for the menus, all work together to create a sympathetic aesthetic in an ancient East End boozer. Service was particularly charming and anchors the whole experience.

The Marksman shoots, and is well on target with its rustic, old school flavours all executed with modern pizazz.

Lunch for 3 £168 with a couple of glasses of prosecco and a bottle of wine. 254 Hackney Road, London, E2 7SL. Check website for opening hours (as they are very detailed and slightly confusing!)