Caravel is the latest venture from Spiteri brothers Fin and Lorcan, a project planned pre-Covid which then swerved into their popular burger and cocktail offering Studio Kitchen, of which Caravel is now a part.
The drinks and FOH side is headed up by Fin, a cocktail consultant with a heavyweight CV including stints at two Tony Conigliaro bars, Untitled and Bar with No Name, plus Ladies & Gents. Lorcan runs the kitchen; his chef credentials include Oldroyd, Quo Vadis, and pub-based pop-up Guinea Fowlers. Both have worked at Rochelle Canteen, which was co-founded by their mother Melanie Arnold, and are also the sons of hospitality legend Jon Spiteri, co-founder of St John and Sessions Arts Club. Predictably, my expectations were high.
Finding the restaurant alone would give you a certain ‘if you know, you know’ edge on a date. At the end of Packington Bridge there is a buzzer which will unlock a metal gate. Follow the path down the stairs and then along the Regent’s Canal towpath to the Studio Kitchen pontoon, alongside which is Caravel’s home, a brick-red barge called Poppy.
Stepping inside the boat, the 40-cover space feels relaxed and contemporary yet surprisingly elegant. White anemones with Dali-esque stems add a sculptural element to the classic white linen tablecloth/dark wood décor. My booking was just as they were opening for dinner, the room gilded by late afternoon sunshine, but I imagine this would be irresistibly romantic when lit by tea lights and vintage brass lamps after dark. (Speaking of light, do take a moment to notice the round, stained-glass windows, whose themes are rather more urban than spiritual).
Fin and Lorcan Spiteri have created something quite special
I blame the aforementioned Sessions Arts Club for my current indulgence of ordering a cocktail with something small and delicious from the top of the menu before I’ve even looked at the main dishes (at Sessions it’s their seasonal Bellini and panisse, every time). It makes sense. Your evening hits the ground running, plus the menu deliberation and subsequent negotiations over small plates become a much more civilised procedure. In the absence of enough space for a full working bar, Caravel has a choice of three cocktails each priced at £8.50 – very reasonable for a pre-dinner sharpener. I had an expertly-crafted chilled Rose Negroni, the whispered suggestion of floral notes layering rather than overpowering its classic bitterness.
The potato rösti, sour cream and caviar is a perfect drinks nibble: a couple of mouthfuls of deliciously contrasting temperatures, textures and flavours. It was good with my Negroni, as I’m sure it is with their Rum and Coke Old Fashioned, but it would be outstanding with a dry Martini. I need to lobby to get that on the menu for my next visit; I have a feeling that Fin’s Martini would be very, very good indeed.
Sesame prawn toast, chilli and lime came as a generous portion ideal for sharing: sesame seed-topped spiced prawn tartare on a thick, crunchy fried slice, served with an addictive chilli, lime and lemongrass jam which I would buy in bulk purely to stir through bowls of late-night noodles.
I am pathologically unable to resist ordering crab pasta on any menu and can tell you that Caravel’s white crab and fennel tagliatelle is light and summery with a well-balanced sweetness; the freshly-made pasta itself is particularly good. Plating here is deservedly confident, if occasionally whimsical (duck croquettes, I’m looking at you). There are no extravagant garnishes, foams or smears – just solid, skilful cooking. If it’s on the plate, it’s part of the flavour profile.
The first mouthful of my rhubarb jelly, crème diplomat and honeycomb dessert sent me straight back in time to childhood birthday parties and Sunday teas. The jelly was set to an ideal yielding shimmy, the light tartness mellowed beautifully by the crème diplomat and a scattering of crunchy honeycomb: nostalgic joy in a proper, grown-up dish.
Fin and Lorcan Spiteri have created something quite special: so quietly accomplished it feels like it’s been there forever and so genuinely charming you feel like an old friend. Congratulations both. Now, what about that Martini?
172 Shepherdess Walk
by Amanda David