Five Things To Know About Caravel, the Spiteri Brothers’ New Islington Restaurant
Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series, The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened (as well as some of your favourite) restaurants.
Here, we’re taking a look at Caravel, the new restaurant from brothers Fin and Lorcan Spiteri, located in a converted former office barge on the Regents Canal between Islington and Hoxton. It’s a return of sorts for the duo, who had a runaway hit on their hands during the pandemic with the burgers-and-cocktails restaurant Studio Kitchen, but are now also running the elegant 40-seater dining room as well.
Here’s everything you need to know about one of London’s most intriguing new restaurants.
1. Caravel is the restaurant the brothers had wanted to open from the beginning.
Back in early 2020, Fin had been running the bar and operations at the ICA while Lorcan was gaining traction with his Guinea Fowlers restaurant pop-ups. The chance to work together and open an elegant modern restaurant – in the style of the dining rooms and kitchens they cut their teeth working in – was too good of an opportunity to miss.
But the pandemic forced them to pivot to what would become Studio Kitchen – with their entire staff furloughed, the brothers “had to adapt a menu for food and drink that could be cooked and served by one person in the kitchen, and one person on the bar,” Fin says.
What they hadn’t anticipated was just how successful Studio Kitchen would be, and just how much the casual nature of the offering suited the site in Holborn Studios. Lorcan’s cooking gained popularity on Instagram (with their father and hospitality legend Jon Spiteri offering high-profile support from the outset), and the spacious outdoor deck overlooking the water was perfect for Londoners desperate for a sense of escapism – and delicious food they didn’t have to cook themselves.
But as chance would have it, the brothers would soon be able to have the best of both worlds.
2. The team had to get creative to transform the boat into a dining room – with the upshot that they’ve created one of the most romantic rooms in London while maintaining the space’s historical details.
Midway through one of the lockdowns, one of the resident offices at Holborn Studios – the legendary photography studio frequented by the likes of Helmut Newton, Annie Liebovitz, and David Bailey – vacated their space on a barge docked at the studio, a pretty working canal boat named ‘Poppy’.
The brothers spotted their chance and began converting the boat into a dining room and kitchen, cobbling it together with elements from Holborn Studios, items purchased locally, and extra furniture from Studio Kitchen. The resulting space, even for London, feels unique; pared-back, with a warmth and elegance from crisp white tablecloths, natural light filtering through the boat’s windows at dusk, and small brass lamps that radiate a warm glow during evening service. “It looks a lot better than how I expected it to at the beginning,” Fin laughs.
The stained-glass windows – peep their tongue-in-cheek designs – remained from the previous occupant and add to the dining room’s eventual ambience. The entrance to the dining was set up to be “domestic feeling”, says Fin, and to feel “welcoming and not imposing – I wanted something that helps people to relax and enjoy their evening.”
Banquettes from the old office were cut, stained, and remodelled; Fin used old decking from Studio Kitchen’s pontoon to fashion a small white gate that leads to the kitchen; and their sister Molly made the beautiful grey curtains that cover the kitchen and bar areas. “There’s care and attention across the whole room,” he says, “but also little touches of family and legacy that nod to Caravel’s history, like the framed photo of [Holborn Studios’] Bill and Mike’s dad Vince having lunch on the boat when they first refurbed it in the early 90’s. These all help to tell the story in such an understated manner.”
“I’m excited to see how the space can operate during the day for lunches,” he adds. “The dining room gets such lovely light that the space lends itself to lunch with friends so well too, and then the more romantic settings are saved for the dinners.”
3. Lorcan’s background at many of London’s best restaurants has helped shaped the British menu, which doesn’t skip a beat.
Food-wise, there’s a simple, regularly changing a la carte that draws seasonal influences and is grounded in Lorcan’s background as a chef. Having worked his way up to sous chef at some of London’s most respected kitchens, including Quo Vadis and Oldroyd (not to mention several summers at Rochelle Canteen, which their mother Melanie Arnold co-founded), Lorcan’s cooking style is influenced by a specific style of seasonal British cooking that London does particularly well.
“Our menu’s short and so we’re proud of everything on it,” Fin smiles. Dishes are heartfelt, precisely executed, and occasionally tongue-in-cheek: confit duck – shaped like ducks – is coated in breadcrumbs and fried to a satisfying crunch (“really delicious, and unique to us”); a nostalgic plate of sesame prawn toast arrives with an excellent chilli and lime jam; while a dish of rhubarb jelly with Chantilly cream and honeycomb offers an affectionate nod to childhood.
“So many places have suffered, so much has been bad – but restaurants are still open, even busy. And new ones continue to open up, too.” – Fin Spiteri
A standout pasta of tagliatelle with white crab and fennel – a surefire winner – is a favourite (“particularly delicious”) and joined by grown-up (and heartwarming) plates like fork-tender spring lamb with sprouting broccoli and anchoïade, or a spring risotto of English broad beans and peas with Graceburn cheese. Along with the beautifully lit dining room, Spiteri’s uncomplicatedly delicious fare, slick cocktails, and the satisfying background chitter-chatter of other guests makes for an unexpectedly spellbinding setup — in other words, date night catnip.
4. The bar is worth visiting for Fin’s drinks alone.
Spiteri’s bar CV is undeniably impressive, having run the bar at Rochelle Canteen at the ICA (and indeed, the entire ICA itself), as well as having worked at Tony Conigliaro’s bars Untitled and 69 Colebrooke Row. Along with his own drinks consultancy (and a high-profile client list that includes Harrods and the Polpo group), he also has a way of knowing exactly what to serve to a guest at exactly the right time.
With that, a short-but-sweet line up of cocktails from one of the city’s most affable front-of-house stars makes a strong case for several rounds of drinks and snacks (the potato rosti with sour cream and caviar is perfect for this). A classic Negroni gets a twist of rose, while a riff on the classic Paper Plane is lifted by aperol bourbon lemon and fragrant blood orange syrup. Spiteri’s mastery of the classics is also without question.
Despite the gorgeous setup and potential, there are, of course, compromises that accompany the challenge of operating a kitchen and bar on a boat: for example, the bar is a remodelled kitchenette originally designed to serve an office. However, Fin is probably one of a few who could make it work quite so well.
With only space for two fridges and a freezer, preparation is key: cocktails are pre-mixed before service and chilled, while glassware is loaded with blocks of ice and stored in the freezer. When a customer orders a drink, it’s poured chilled into a frozen glass over a block of ice and ready to go. “This way, we can have great drinks that don’t need a whole bar setup to achieve, and means we don’t sacrifice quality at all,” Fin says.
5. The restaurant brings back the team from Studio Kitchen, while keeping the close relationship the brothers have with Holborn Studios.
As with the best restaurants, a close team that works well together is indispensable – and a sense of continuity even more so. At Caravel and Studio Kitchen (which the brothers continue to run alongside the new restaurant), they have both: much of the kitchen and front of house team at Caravel have been brought through from Studio Kitchen, creating an outstanding team dynamic as “everyone has worked together for a number of years and gets on so well,” Fin explains. In addition, the brothers have continued working with Bill and Mike McCartney, who run Holborn Studios and are also partners on Studio Kitchen.
As hospitality lifers, Caravel represents a new chapter for the brothers, and its opening – along with so many others in London – coincides with a renewed optimism across the industry.
“I think it’s impossible not to feel optimistic about London’s hospitality scene given the negativity that has been felt since Brexit and the pandemic,” Fin says. “So many places have suffered, so much has been bad – but restaurants are still open, even busy. And new ones continue to open up, too.”
“It is a tough job, in an increasingly difficult sector; but it has always been that way. If you choose it as a career, it’s because it is your passion and that means you’ll do it no matter the odds. I think that’s incredibly inspiring – and fingers crossed, the future looks bright.”
Caravel is open for dinner, Thursday to Saturday. Make a reservation here.
David Paw is Resy’s International Editor. Follow him on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.