Caravel, Regent’s Canal

It makes perfect sense that with London commercial property rents sky-high, wiley restaurateurs should look further afield and towards quirkier, more unusual spaces to set up shop. I have had mixed experiences dining on a boat (the London Shell Company: great fun; our office Xmas party on the Thames, diabolical) but it's probably important to point out that although Caravel is on a boat, it remains moored up next to nice clean toilets for the duration of the evening, so you get all the charm of a Regents Canal houseboat without having to sacrifice any of your basic comforts.

The second thing you notice about Caravel is the extremely reasonable prices on their a la carte. Starters are £9-£13, mains £18-£23 and desserts £8, the kind of budget you really only see a good distance from London, and even then increasingly rarely. Of course, all it meant in this instance is that we felt able to order way more food and booze than we needed, thus negating the value for money aspect slightly, but this being a birthday meal (mine), that was always likely to be the case.

How can you not over-order anyway when it's all this good? House pickles and bread & butter were exactly what was needed the pickles having a perfect balance of sweetness and sharpness, and the bread being soft and warm with a bright-white fluffy butter.

Potato rosti with sour cream and caviar were as good as they sound and a lot better than they look here, sorry. Caravel is candle-lit, which creates a lovely cosy atmosphere but also means I was unable to use my normal camera and had to resort to the iPhone 13's long exposure mode. Still, you get the idea. What's not to like about crunchy potato, sour cream and caviar?

A plate of coppa and salami was very welcome, as was this brightly coloured (at least in person it was) warm squid salad, which pickled tomatoes and lovely sweet pink fir potatoes all doused in a nice sharp herby dressing.

There really is no excuse for my photography so I'm just going to ignore the fact I've managed to get a piece of lemon in perfect focus while the main ingredient is a blurry mess. These were guinea fowl skewers - I promise - and were absolutely lovely, topped with dragoncello, a kind of salsa verde made with tarragon. I love tarragon, and I love guinea fowl, and the combination was unbeatable.

I don't mind the odd bit of international-fusion experimentation on an otherwise European menu, and Caravel's sesame prawn toast were great big chunky things, greaseless and very satisfying to eat. The chilli jam was good, too - presumably home made which is always appreciated.

To be perfectly honest I don't have much of a memory of eating these roasted carrots with goats curd - and given it's not the kind of thing I would normally order for myself, I probably didn't. Those little crispy bits look nice though don't they? Despite the terrible photo. Again.

Onglet came with pickled walnuts as advertised but also rocket instead of watercress, which wasn't. But there's not much of a difference and anyway the main draw here was the beef, cooked to a good rare (onglet should be served rare) and the pickled walnuts providing a very clever acidic counterbalance where in other circumstances something like chimmichurri or bearnaise would do the same.

Some of the same people who joined me on this dinner had also been lucky enough to share that wonderful lunch at Manteca a few months back, and so it's fair to say we had been a bit spoiled in the pasta department recently, this oxtail ragu pappardelle still held its head high thanks to nice firm pasta and an enjoyable, if fairly sweet, ragu.

Finally, roast hake with chickpeas and cavolo nero where hopefully despite my monstrosity of a photo you can just about make out a good crisp skin, bright-white nicely flaking flesh on the hake and, hiding at the back, a genuinely lovely saffron-spiked aioli.

With regards to the final bill, and if you think £403 for 5 people is a bit on the punchy side, take a bit of a closer look at the itemisation. Yes, not only did we double up on the onglet and the pappardelle but that's 5 cocktails and 1750ml of wine we managed to plough through and though I don't regret a bit of it (and can only assume my dining companions felt the same) it's probably more than possible to do an evening at Caravel for around £50pp if you're a bit more sensible. Which by my reckoning puts it in the lower end of the mid-budget joints in the capital.

We didn't end there of course. Caravel have launched a brand-new cocktail bar called Bruno's also on a vessel moored alongside, so we spent the rest of the evening in another trendy candlelit houseboat drinking Brandy Alexanders until presumably either it was closing time or they chucked us out for other non-specific reasons. The next morning, I found at the bottom of my bag a pretty little Bruno-branded brass coaster with my name lovingly engraved on it, which I'm almost certain I didn't thank them for enough at the time, so let me take this opportunity to correct that - thank you for my birthday coaster. And thank you, Caravel, for a wonderful dinner.


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