Having lived my entire life in the same five square miles of South East London I rarely venture out west, and certainly never as far as the Brompton Road - I distrust any area of the capital with streets this clean. But fate has intervened, and American-inspired Middle Eastern restaurant and lounge bar, Caramel, have opened their first European location, just a five minute walk from South Kensington station. As it transpires, the one thing that will tempt me just about anywhere is the prospect of finding sushi and sliders on the same menu.
Venue and Atmosphere
The interiors of Caramel are an immediate draw. Pretty marbled tables and leather armchairs make for relaxed and comfortable seating, while hexagonal art-deco booths fitted into the high-shine walls would be a nice hideaway for an evening of fine wine and sharing plates. For all its modern fittings though, there’s a decidedly old school style of service here; chairs are tucked in behind you, napkins laid on your laps, and I’m sure if you asked nicely enough they’d carve your steak up for you too. But don’t worry about bringing any airs and graces, because they’re also a hugely friendly and accomodating bunch.
Chatty and charmingly boisterous, our waiter, Max, talks us through the menu, pointing out the customer favourites, his own favourites, the must-trys and the nothing-specials. I’d recommend the recommendations: every member of staff at Caramel is hugely well-versed in the menu, from the signature cocktails to the side dishes. General manager, Edgar, informs me that each employee took part in a four-week intensive training course prior to opening, during which time they sample every item on sale, learning the ins-and-outs of each dish and drink.
Food and Drink
Without even getting a peek at the menu, our cocktail choices are sussed out for us. As a whisky fan I’m given The Cambiaso (£25). Named for the Argentine polo player, Adolfo Cambiaso, this cocktail is the restaurant’s take on the Manhattan. Royal Salute 21yo, vermouth, homemade Champagne syrup and Chocolate bitters are combined to produce a smooth and bittersweet beverage that offers a very healthy smack of Scotch. My rum-loving guest opts for The Palm Island (£13), a medley of Bacardi Blanca, Star of Bombay gin, creme de peche and orange juice offers a taste of warmer weather, complete with mint garnish and floating orange slice resembling a tiny desert island.
The dishes are arranged as a large selection of small plates and a slimmer range of mains. For starters we share the grilled lamb cutlets (£13) and a Dynamite Roll (£17). Marinated for ten hours in honey and sriracha, the cutlets are soft and sweet with a hint of nuttyness from a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and the meat all but melts off the bone. But it’s the Dynamite Roll that tops the starter stakes, as crispy tempura prawn is stuffed into a rice roll with tangy house TNT sauce.
For my main I’ve gone for the Surf ‘n’ Turf Sliders (£22), three little beef burgers topped with TNT Shrimp, a signature dish at Caramel. The combination of rare-cooked burger and crispy battered shrimp in spicy Japanese mayo will light up every pleasure receptor in your brain, and pairs well with the Shiraz Riesling (£10/ glass), which itself offers rich, smooth flavours with a kick of spice. My companion orders the spicy lime chicken with sauteed aubergines and yellow courgettes (£19), which proves to be full-flavoured and wonderfully fresh and produces a lot of emphatic cheeps from the other side of the table.
Fronting contemporary food with old school sensibilities, Caramel offers the highest standards of service, with a little cheek on the side. With flavours as bold and lavish as its decor, it’s perfect for anyone in the mood for a little modern indulgence.