The southern cusp of Ritan Park has long been reserved for dingy, lacklustre restaurants, servicing staffers and foreign nationals of the embassies they huddle up to. Caravan, the newest venture from long-time Beijing hospitality extraordinaire Badr Benjelloun, might be the first glimmer of hope in an otherwise desolate landscape.
Caravan’s wooden façade has taken the place of the former Casa Brasil, and the unremarkable exterior does little to distinguish Caravan from the rank and fle of Guanghua Lu’s drab and official- looking buildings. The décor is likewise sparse: high ceilings and mustard-yellow walls sporting black-and-white photographs give it a comfortable vibe, if lacking personality. A handsome slab of iron-studded hardwood separates the two dining rooms, and the bar shows further promising signs of Caravan’s developing character.
The menu, though limited, is decidedly more confident in its identity. Items focus on Moroccan and Cajun staples, two distinct yet surprisingly complementary styles. It may seem like shoving a round peg in a square hole, but trust us – it’s a fantastic combo.
Two- and three-course menus are available for 120RMB and 150RMB respectively. There’s also a selection of snacks, like a dish of excellent spiced olives, priced à la carte. Starters are light and make for a refreshing beginning to the menu.
The Cajun chicken salad arrives topped with warm slices of chicken breast, rounds of tomatoes and a healthy drizzling of horseradish remoulade.
The tangy dressing and mild chicken, with a hint of smoky cayenne pepper, is very good with the cool lettuce. The Moroccan sharmula of carrots and potatoes is a solid take on the classic. Thick-cut carrots stewed with cumin, hot paprika and garlic, served on rich pilaf rice, makes for a more filling starter.
The mains are where things really start to happen. The Mechoui lamb shank is blissfully tender. Hours of slow cooking extinguish the last vestiges of sinuous resistance, long before a final coating of honey and sweet raisin glaze is roasted to fne sheen. The sweet richness of the meat pairs well with the fuffy couscous.
The Moroccan burger is slightly less impressive. The beef is well seasoned, juicy and benefits from a topping of caramelised onions and jalapeños, but the lean beef patty is a bit tough and lacks the luxurious richness of the lamb.
The Caravan Flambé showcases Benjelloun’s well-documented love of all things rum, with hunks of banana drowned in dark rum, orange liqueur and a generous scoop of rum and raisin ice cream. It feels like a boozy afterthought compared to the favourful mains, but it’s a welcome end to the meal nonetheless.
The drink list features some well- priced wines (from 40RMB a glass) and original cocktails (40RMB). What with a stage in the corner of the main room, unique dishes and modestly priced drinks, Caravan is reason alone for a night out in the the embassy district.
By Nick Gollner