Duke of York Square has been lacking a good restaurant for some time so our ears pricked when we heard the news that Caravan were opening a new venture here, housed in the circular pavilion slap bang in the centre of the square. New Zealand-inspired Caravan shook up the brunch scene when they opened in Exmouth Market in 2010 serving speciality coffee (roasted in-house) and an eclectic menu including fluffy buttermilk hotcakes and their renowned spicy jalapeño cornbread. Four more restaurants followed suit earning Caravan a good rep for casual daytime dining. Vardo, meaning Romani wagon, also does brunch – but much more besides. It’s motto ‘dining with no boundaries’ is all about travelling and picking flavours from around the globe, sprinkling a little of this and a little of that. At first glance the menu feels a bit all over the place. There’s so much there; dumplings alongside croquettes, there’s burrata and then tandoori chicken, pizza as well grain bowls. But the brilliant thing is, it all works.
We went for dinner, and ordered plenty to try. One of us started with a cocktail, the other with kombucha and it’s the sort of place where this combination feels easy. Then came sharing plates; sticky pork dumplings and that legendary corn bread. Our favourite here was the garam masala labneh with fenugreek-chilli butter, spiced chickpeas and flat bread – so good and generous too, a plate would easily serve four as a starter. Next came the crispy sea bass which was cooked to perfection. But saving room for pudding is key, everyone must try the soft-serve ice cream, made each morning in-house and served out of an artisan Mr Whippy machine. Order the vanilla bean with olive oil and smoked sea salt – we’ve not stopped dreaming about it.
With vast floor-to-ceiling windows the space feels fresh and contemporary. Co-founder Chris Ammermann tells us that they’d been apprehensive about the Chelsea clientele – perhaps they’d be looking for something more polished than their usual laid-back, Caravan style? He had all the staff on best behaviour, but needn’t have worried. A very happy crowd fill the banquettes and smaller tables, a hum of satisfaction in the air as people share the delicious dishes and check out what other diners are having. But really it’s a place where everyone can have exactly what they want. There’s something for everyone, for any occasion from coffee and brunch to an evening cocktail and snacks. We’ve found a new favourite.