New Bites: Caravan
It's Badr's town. We're all just living and eating Moroccan food in it. Here's a look at his new restaurant Caravan, now soft open on Guanghua Lu.
Caravan is a new Moroccan restaurant, drinks, and live music nightspot opened up just a week or so ago on Guanghua Lu. It's right across from the Brazilian embassy, right in the middle of the diplomacy district, just a few doors down from where Maggie's slings a, by all accounts, very righteous hotdog.
This is, of course, the new restaurant-slash-bar venture from Cuju's Badr Benjelloun. Caravan is the Morrocan native combining efforts with the 2 Kolegas diaspora, mashing up their collective strengths into a new place you can eat nice food, get a bit blotto, and listen to some music. Take Badr's home-style Moroccan food and drinks, add the 2 Kolegas sound system, both of their contact books for musicians, and both of their associated social and drinking circles, and you've got what Caravan is: eating, drinking, and listening to music with a bunch of Beijing long-timers, heshers, hippies, reprobates, hangers-on, bar owners, bar flys, alchohol reps, beer brewers, capowararrara jujitsu folk, failed musicians, hugely successful musicians, random diplomats, horrible DJs, and the rest of the polyglot of wonderful, wonderful people that comprise the community of this wonderful, wonderful city.
Here's one such wonderful person...
So. The menu. Thus far and for the immanent future at least, it's a rotating set menu of three courses that changes weekly. 150rmb gets you all three courses -- starter, main, desert -- plus a drink for your troubles. If you're significantly troubled you can order more drinks on top of that at extra charge. It's similar vibes to those Sunday meals Badr used to do way-back-when over at Cuju, and I would surmise most of the menu content is coming from the trial and error of those Sunday dinners. The seating is at 8pm, food gets underway shortly thereafter, and it's served in waves to the whole restaurant at once, kind of thing.
Food is North African with a bit of French bistro-ness happening as well, maybe. Lots of hearty meat appreciation going on in the main course (usually chicken or lamb), treated with typically North African spice and sauce combinations (nutmeg, pepper, cumin, cloves, paprika), and rounded out with heavy veggies, dates, olives, almonds, raisins, and other garnishes.
And here's a meal...
Olives, of course. Just as a pre-game snack sort of thing. Everything from the Moroccan chef comes absolutely covered in olives. These were also doused in garlic. Very tasty.
A bright and crunchy carrots salad. A "sharmula" is a kind of herbs marinade usually used to prepare fish, but this is the concept used to do carrots. Was like a birght, lemony, kind of taste. Pretty light and refreshing against the main course, which was...
Desert Leg of Lamb with Prunes and Almonds Over Red Rice Pilaf
...a big ole leg of lamb. I've seen these before, simmering in the back kitchen at Cuju for some private dinner I wasn't invited to, so it was nice to finally try one out. Really tasty. Meat-falling-off-the-bone lamb, with a sweet rice side, with prunes and raisins giving it like a chutney sort of taste. For some at our table, they needed some salt for the rice. Philistines! Philistines.
But yeah, the lamb was great. Super tender and very nicely complimented by the dates. Thumbs up.
Flambe Banana with Rum Raisin Ice Cream and Cracked Pepper
Yeah, this was great as well. Rum raisin plus pepper and banana, served in a coffee mug. Tasted like a eggnog.
For booze, it's a pretty paired down menu thus far. They're not doing the 9,000,000 varieties of rum that Cuju is known for. I guess they're saving that for the Xiguan hutong spot exclusively. Options are a couple of wines (Terras d'el Rei Red, Zisola Rosso), a list of about 14 standard and custom cocktails (45rmb to 70rmb or so), and Tiger bottles (20rmb).
So there it is. Despite Caravan still being pre-ultra-soft-whatever open, we've already managed to sneak in for a few preview dinners so far and we can offer this: it's definitely a Badr venue. It's definitely a Badr place. The food is ambitious, unique, very personal, painstakingly done, kinda bonkers a bit, and pretty damn good in my opinion. If you're a fan of the style and what's on the menu at Cuju, this is like that but a bit more developed into a "fine dining" three-course meal sort of thing. But as I say, it's still a Badr place. Big white walls and high ceilings translates to a boisterous and tipsy dining experience, with a bunch of dudes that have known each other forever getting a bit loud and having a good time.
So that's what's currently there. The stage isn't in yet, so give it a few weeks for that. And they also have a nice patio which would be good for summer. You can get in for a meal if you're keen by contacting them in advance but look for an official grand opening thing in the next few weeks...
Caravan is at 44 Guanghua Lu. Here's the contact if you're looking to get a dinner: 188 0112 3456.