Caboose: The Best Burgers Pulling Into Town
Caboose is London’s latest dining sensation and a huge part of its success is down to the fact it has spun the old dinner party theme on it’s head. Situated in Ely’s Yard just off of Brick Lane, Caboose has been taking East London’s street food scene by storm for the last 2 years with its combination of slow cooked meats from its serving hatch during the day, and its often raucous dinner parties in the cabin in the evening. The caboose itself was hand built by the 3 founders (with a little help from their friends) and was a labour of love for the first half of 2013.
The cabin was purpose built to help build a feeling of intimacy and to a certain extent “Cabin Fever” for diners who come to enjoy a 3 course meal with them, allowing groups of between 8-12 to completely let loose in privacy akin to a party at home.
We caught up with one of its founders, James Bostock to discuss the concept of Caboose, the importance of fine ingredients and his favourite places to eat (other than Caboose of course).
How did the idea for Caboose come about?
We’re three old school friends, and at the time of Caboose’s conception we were all at a particular point where we were all either fed up with what we were currently doing, or up for doing something different. I’d just finished my masters degree and LPC in law and was pretty turned off (to say the least) by the idea of practice. Jim had his own Christmas tree company, which was turning a good profit but was naturally quite seasonal and left him twiddling his thumbs for the rest of the year. Gandalf was a music producer and tour manager (and still is) and wanted a new challenge. We knew we wanted to do something with food and soon realised that we didn’t have the capital to even entertain the idea of going into a bricks ‘n mortar restaurant, so we began looking at the London street food scene, which was, and still is, an incredibly burgeoning market. We didn’t just want to be another food truck however, we were really keen on the concept of a hybrid street food eatery, which would sell street food during the day but also have the capacity to seat people for more extensive meals. We toyed with all sorts of venues, at one point I think we were looking at using an extended hearse, the ambulance from Ghostbusters, a fire truck, but these were all too small. That’s when we stumbled across this dilapidated Caboose in the states, which we immediately fell in love with.
A caboose is the last railway carriage on an old train. A cabin where the railway workers would eat, play cards and hang out. We set about building a replica from the ground up in March 2013, rolled into our new home in Shoreditch in July 2013 and have been there ever since.
So have you always had a passion for good food?
I mean, I’ve certainly always liked eating good food, who doesn’t! My father’s an excellent chef and I’m so fortunate to have grown up around great food so while I have always had that, actually cooking good food is something that came more naturally to my business partners. I’ve certainly fallen in love with cooking since opening though. We’re always trying to push the envelope and come up with interesting ideas. One thing I do love to do is host and that’s why I host each and every dinner party we have at the Caboose.
Why do you think Caboose has worked as a concept?
Gosh, I think there are many things which have contributed to our success so far some of it being luck, I don’t think any of us appreciated quite how much hard work it would be getting things off the ground to begin with. I think it’s incredibly unique. I don’t to my knowledge know of anything like it… When people book the cabin and enjoy an evening with us, it just works really well. It’s incredibly intimate due to its size, it’s social due to the seating layout (a U-Shaped table inspired by the old green Cabman’s shelters you may have seen dotted around the capital), its got an atmosphere unlike any other restaurant. We have 2 staff for each booking one of them being myself and the food’s great. It’s just a really, really good night out, and we could all do with more of those!
What was it like being the number one restaurant in London on Tripadvisor at the start of the year?
Tripadvisor is a blessing and a curse. There’s no doubt its put us on the map. Our bookings have gone through the roof, and during the seasonal downturn (I hate Winter!) it really keeps us alive, but you are constantly finding yourself worrying every day that a bad review is going to send you plummeting down the list. Ultimately, Tripadvisor isn’t the most prestigious list to be top of, we know we don’t even compete with the level of gastronomy at the Michelin star restaurants lower than us on the list but I like to think we offer something different and just as exciting. We’re happy our customers are happy. We’re enjoying it while it lasts!
Have you had any famous people in your Caboose?
We had Jimmy Carr in there the other day, he was great. I don’t think we’ve made it to ‘Celebrity Haunt’ levels just yet. Maybe this will be our year…
Have you noticed that people are starting to pay more and more attention to where their food is sourced from?
Oh absolutely. We often have people asking where our meat is from and we’re proud to say that we know our farmer’s personally and have been to visit on numerous occasions. I think people are more conscious of what they consume, not only because of the ethics (free range / grass fed, but health aspects too. People want to know what they’re eating. We’ve found the meat in general just tastes a whole lot better when it’s sourced from reputable, sustainable farms, especially when cattle hasn’t had to be schlepped from one side of Europe to the other. All that stress on the animal makes for a pretty sour tasting and tough cut of meat.
If you could get rid of one food in the world, what would it be?
Brussels sprouts. My sister makes me try them every year at Christmas and every year I swear never to try one again.
What is your main distraction outside of the food business?
I love my local, The Lock Tavern!
What is your favourite place to eat in London?
I had a really nice meal recently at Michael Nadra in Primrose Hill. I love sushi, so Roka is a personal favourite. Chicken Shop in Kentish Town is great too, I love what they’ve done with the place. Too many to pick a fave!