Things are changing in Kings Cross. The area behind the railway station was once the burial plot of monarchs – hence the name, but who’s ever paused to think about that? – and is now the leaping-off point for graduates of the new Central St Martins School of Art and Design building, housed in a vast converted granary, one of several imposing industrial buildings being repurposed as the area continues to be redeveloped. When I heard that shops and restaurants would be moving into other wings of the granary building, I feared the worst: a Pret and a Little Waitrose at best. To my surprise (and relief), the first tenant here proved to be Caravan, the very superior New Zealand-run café and bistro, opening its second London branch after two successful years on Exmouth Market.
These Antipodean coffee places have been springing up all over London over the last few years – Flat White in Soho kicked the movement off – and Caravan is one of the finest. Their coffees are unimpeachable, the finest in London, while their mocha – teak-dark in colour, with an elaborate spiderweb of chocolate syrup piped carefully onto the half-inch of thick crema – is in the running for one of the most aesthetically pleasing things you can order for a brunch (just the one, mind: even my sweet tooth can’t withstand a second).
Where the Exmouth Market branch is a cosier environment, this new Caravan is buzzier and bears all the hallmarks of the Trendy London Dining Room – raw walls, a ventilation system exposed overhead, blond wood tables with paper ‘tablecloths’, tap water served in lab beakers. The huge windows keep the space bright and airy, but that preponderance of hard surfaces means you might need to lean in closer to hear your companion. Behind the bar is a no-man’s land of industrial-scale equipment for, presumably, roasting and grinding fresh beans. Either that or they’re drilling to the core of the Earth. To one side of these sci-fi contraptions is the door to the lavatories, indicated by a large sheet of butcher’s paper with the word TOILETS scrawled on it. It’s all artfully managed to look careless and impromptu.
Caravan is buzzier and bears all the hallmarks of the Trendy London Dining Room – raw walls, a ventilation system exposed overhead, blond wood tables with paper ‘tablecloths’, tap water served in lab beakers.
Although it’s open for lunches and dinners – small plates proliferate – brunch is where Caravan is at its best. From the simple options of toasts with toppings like cheddar and onion jam or crushed avocado with lemon and chilli, to parmesan grits with girolles and boar sausage, a fantastic smoked haddock ‘rarebit’, and a variant on eggs Florentine where a salt beef hash replaces the muffin.
It’s a real struggle for me not to order the baked eggs on every visit – the only dish, I think, that’s made it across to the new Caravan from its original venue. It comes in a dish of sweetish tomato and pepper ragout, with a dod of yoghurt and two pieces of chorizo (an additional side order of the sausage is to be recommended). On my last visit I went, instead, for a Turkish-inspired dish of poached eggs on a bed of aubergine and yoghurt. It is wonderfully smoky, the texture somehow simultaneously substantial yet whipped light. Two solid chunks of Turkish satsouki sausage give the dish salt and savour. For flavour and consistency – with the gloop of egg yolk and bite of sourdough toast – this is a perfect brunch.
Clearly these aren’t light dishes – they’ll either set you up for the day or lay you out for it – but if somehow you’re still hungry, there’s an ever-changing selection of cookies, muffins, cakes and ‘blondies’ (brownies made with white chocolate) in addition to a handful of desserts on the menu. A butterscotch caramel cup, which comes served in a coffee cup with salted shortbread to dip, is a particular highlight.
Quibbles: service can be a little off – drinks orders you place at the bar while you wait for a table to free up have a tendency not to make it to your table without a little reminder being issued – such that it can feel you need to forge a bit of a relationship with your server so they don’t forget about you. And, preferring my bacon somewhat on the carcinogenic side, I was disappointed by a side-order of two rather pink and gelatinous rashers; we sent it back not once but twice before it came back properly crisp and blistered. (This finickiness did at least ensure the server remembered us thereafter.)
There’s not much else to see around the Granary Square area yet – besides some ornamental fountains and, inexplicably, a colossal birdcage which, until recently, had a swing in it – yet the in-the-know are already flocking to Caravan for the best brunch in London. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations before dinner at weekends, so you might have a bit of a wait – sink one of those mochas meantime, though, and you won’t mind a bit. Perfection takes time.
Caravan King’s Cross, Granary Building, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA
0207 101 7661; caravankingscross.com