When I'm planning to go out and eat in a group, I can't help but think of Turkish or Greek food. The servings are generous and it's a style of cuisine that begs to be shared and eaten with friends or family. Even the environment of most Turkish restaurants are conductive to group situations: loud, colourful and warm.
I read about Caravanserai on Vogue Forums a while back and had it mentally bookmarked for a future event. It's located in West End but because my knowledge of West End doesn't extend much beyond the Boundary and Melbourne intersection, I hadn't ever seen it around. Last night, I had a small gathering with old highschool friends and we ended up at Three Monkeys so I thought it was the perfect time to find Caravanserai and try it out for dinner.
After multiple attempts at Googling the restaurant on my iPhone (Caravanserai is just too long - I kept getting 'a's and 'e's mixed up), I finally dug up an address. We navigated the West End maze a few times before locating the restaurant. It was quite a journey, in fact.
By the time we walked in, it was LATE. The waitress told us they were closing the kitchen soon but ended up letting us in. The restaurant has a decent amount of tables, sort of sectioned up. The walls are dark red and the tables are covered with colourful rugs. There's a pleasant ethnic vibe but nothing too intimidating.
We decided to order the Ottoman Meze platter to share as entrees and pick individual mains for ourselves.
Ottoman Meze platter - dates stuffed with pinenuts, Turkish sausage, haloumi with pesto, stuffed mushrooms, polenta, green bean and roasted almond salad, garlic confit
The meze platter came first, along with an extra basket of bread. How lovely of them :). The platter contained a selection of goodies. In particular, I loved the haloumi and the sausages.
The bread was delicious too and I'm glad we got an extra basket! The green beans were quite crisp and tasty. I was too scared to try the garlic confit because although I love garlic, too much of it gives me a weird aftertaste for days. I thought the dipping sauces were too acidic (sour) but overall, a nice tasting plate.
Mains came after. They all looked spectacular and much bigger servings than I thought. I had chosen the mahi mahi. The fish itself was slightly dry - not the really silky type of fish texture that I normally like, but more hardy and meat-like. I loved the potato and leek gratin and the saffron aioli. I thought the asparagus looked dry but they were tender and delicious. It was sooo filling.
I didn't taste any of the other plates but asked my friends for their feedback. The lamb stew didn't get a very good reception. My friend who ordered it thought the stew lacked body and substance and the flavor as a whole was unexciting.
The grilled octopus salad was actually a side dish but looked nearly as hearty as the mains that were ordered. The feedback for this dish was that it was very enjoyable - great flavors and good to eat. The criticism was that it was a bit too 'watery', i.e. too much dressing.
Shish Kebap - chicken skewers char-grilled, served on cous cous, side of salad, fresh tomato sauce and yogurt cucumber
Finally, the chicken shish kebap was apparently really good. Again, the flavors were the standout feature. This is usually the case with Mediterranean dishes because they utilize such strong flavors and fresh ingredients.
The general consensus was that Caravanserai gave us a great dining experience. We were allowed in so late into a weekday evening yet never at once felt pressured to quickly finish and go. The staff were just lovely and very helpful (we asked for recommendations and explanations about a few menu items). When we were there, it was obviously very quiet and we had a great time catching up over the lovely food. The bill, when split was also quite inexpensive. A few desserts caught my eye and I'll definitely be going back to try them.