Caravan Exmouth Market (COVID-19 Update)

The Caravan logo from the sign outside the original Exmouth Market branch.I’d originally planned today’s Coffee Spot for Saturday. Then the latest COVID-19 restrictions happened and, for a while, I wondered if I should postpone my write up until December at the earliest. However, since Caravan is still open for collection/delivery, I decided to go ahead, so welcome to Monday’s Coffee Spot, an update on Caravan Exmouth Market. Until the England-wide shutdown on Thursday, Caravan was going strong, serving its filling breakfasts, weekend brunches and innovative small plates and dinners, all backed up with some excellent Caravan coffee on espresso and filter.

Caravan is one of those legendary names in London coffee circles. Now with five restaurants/cafes/bars, plus a coffee bar in Harrods and a dedicated roastery, Exmouth Market was where it all began, back in 2010. As well as being the original Caravan coffee shop, it was also the original roastery (located in the basement), before that moved out to King’s Cross and then to the new facility at the Lamb Works. The smallest of the five, Exmouth Market is still my favourite, so when I found myself staying around the corner, I decided to call in for dinner. And then I came back for breakfast the following morning…

You can see what I made of it after the gallery.

  • On the corner of Exmouth Market and Pine Street, it's the original Caravan...
  • ... looking much as it did in 2017, although back then there were no tables on Pine Street.
  • This is what it looks like at night, when I visited for dinner. At night, the tables on Pine St...
  • ... are by the windows, but during the day they're at the edge of the pavement.
  • There are more tables down the Exmouth Market side.
  • The A-board sums it up nicely.
  • Don't be fooled by the door on the corner, by the way: it's exit only.
  • To get in, you have to go down to the back of Caravan on the Exmouth Market side.
  • This is a view of the door from my visit in 2017.
  • These days, the door holds a plethora of COVID-19 signs and instructions.
  • It's the same when you get inside, where you'll find this table by the door.
  • More signs of the (COVID-19) times.
  • There's also a one-way system marked out on the floor...
  • ... which, if you follow it all the way, leads you out by the door at the front.
  • This is shot of the counter, taken in 2017. It's not that different now...
  • ... except that while the bar stools are still there, I don't think you can sit on them.
  • Back in 2017, there were three high tables on the dividing wall opposite the counter..
  • They are still there, but the middle one has been taken out of use.
  • The bulk of the seating is at the front, on the other side of the dividing wall. This is from...
  • ... 2017, as is this view from the other end.
  • I couldn't really get an equivalent view this time around: this is the best I got. The layout...
  • ... is very similar though, except there are fewer tables, or the tables have fewer chairs.
  • The view from my table on my most recent visit...
  • ... while here are the tables against the dividing wall when I was there in 2017.
  • As you can see, there are far fewer there now!
  • It's a similar story with the padded bench along the left-hand wall. This is 2017...
  • ... and this is a broadly similar shot from my most recent visit.
  • I am nothing if not predictable. Here's a light-fitting picture I took in 2017...
  • ... and here's one of the same light-fitting from my most recent visit.
  • I'll leave you to work out which one of these is from 2017...
  • ... and which one from my most recent visit...
  • ... although this one, from underneath, is from the most recent visit.
  • Caravan continues to offer full table service. You get a carafe of water...
  • ... and a QR Code to take you to the menus (and an alternative track and trace system).
  • On my most recent visit, I was there for dinner, having the sea bass and curry...
  • ... with the boiled orange and almond cake for dessert.
  • I was back the following morning for breakfast, ordering the Veggie Fry and extra toast.
  • The Veggie Fry comes with everything layered on a single slice of toast...
  • ... although I somewhat dismantled mine to eat it!
  • I also had a pair of flat whites, this decaf one with my dinner...
  • ... which had some neat latte art...
  • ... and this regular one the following morning with my breakfast.
  • The latte art was just as neat...
  • ... and also lasted...
  • ... all the way to the bottom of the cup (as did my decaf the night before).
  • I'll leave you with some good news: Caravan is still open for delivery or collection!
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Caravan occupies a prime spot at the southwest end of Exmouth Market, where it meets Pine Street. There are floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides and a door on the corner itself, which we’ll come back to, plus plenty of outside seating. Three large tables with benches line the Exmouth Market side, with three two-person tables on the far side of the pavement. Alternatively, three more two-person tables occupy the pavement around the corner on the Pine Street side.

The entrance remains at back on the right (Exmouth Market side), double doors leading you to the counter, although these days you’ll be greeted by a member of staff, some hand sanitiser and obligatory QR Code for the NHS COVID-19 App (there’s also an on-line option for your contact details if you don’t have the app). If you’re staying, your temperature’s taken using an infra-red thermometer, then you’re shown to a table, where you’ll enjoy full table service, plus a QR Code which leads to Caravan’s various menus.

You’re fine to unmask when seated, but are asked to wear a mask when moving around. Talking of which, there’s a one-way system, which, starting at the door, takes you along the counter at the back, down the left-hand side and then across the front, where you can either cut along the right-hand side to get back to where you started, or leave via the door on the corner (which is exit only).

Other than the one-way system, little else has changed. The large counter is still at the back, with the front two-thirds of Caravan given over to tables, the two separated by a low, tiled wall. Although the stools are still there, I don’t think you can sit at the counter anymore, while the wrap-around part at the end (which faced the espresso machine) is definitely out of use. Of the three three-person high tables projecting from the counter side of the dividing wall, the middle one is out of use.

It’s a similar story in the front of Caravan, where the layout is much as I remember it, but with fewer tables. The free-standing four-person tables in the middle of the room are reduced to two-person tables, while the four tables along the other side of the dividing wall have been reduced from four to two. The padded benches which runs along the windows on Pine Street and down the left-hand side are similarly reduced in number. The atmosphere, both for dinner in the evening, and when I returned for breakfast the next morning, is unchanged, much to Caravan’s credit.

The last time I had dinner at Caravan, I indulged in the small plates, which again caught my eye, before I was tempted by the large plates, specifically the pan-fried sea bass with red coconut curry. At my server’s suggestion, I added a side of rice, which was great for soaking up the curry. The fish was excellent, by the way, and while the curry was a little hotter than I prefer, the rice nicely offset it. I rounded things off with the boiled orange and almond cake (think banana bread in consistency/style), topped with mascarpone and caramel sauce.

The breakfast menu is slightly more traditional and I found myself drawn to the Veggie Fry, an interesting dish with all the ingredients (two poached eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, grilled halloumi and smashed avocado) served on a single, large slice of toast. I had no problem with this, but those who like everything separate would be wise to ask for this when ordering.

I also had a pair of flat whites, decaf the night before and regular with breakfast, giving me a rare opportunity to compare and contrast. Both were very fine, with expertly-steamed milk, while the decaf was richer, presenting more traditional notes. In contrast, my morning flat white was definitely sweeter and fruitier, setting me up nicely for the day ahead.

11-13 EXMOUTH MARKET • LONDON • EC1R 4QD
www.caravanrestaurants.co.uk +44 (0) 20 7833 8115
Monday 09:00 – 21:00 Roaster Caravan (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 09:00 – 21:00 Seating Tables, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 09:00 – 21:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Cake
Thursday 09:00 – 21:00 Service Table
Friday 09:00 – 21:00 Payment Cards Only
Saturday 09:00 – 21:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 09:00 – 21:00 Power Limited
Chain Local Visits Original: 18th December 2014, 12th May 2017
Update: 29th, 30th October 2020

Note that due to the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions in England, at the time of writing, Caravan is closed, although you can still order online for collection or delivery.

Liked this? Then take a look at the rest of London’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to London.


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