Blimey, Asian mushrooms have lost their edge. At least if Street Restaurant Earlsdon’s ‘Nasi Goreng with Malaysian friend rice, tofu, egg, diced vegetables, spices, soya beans and Asian mushrooms’ is anything to go by. I’m not saying the mushrooms weren’t Asian – they might have been grown in China for the British market for all I know – but they looked and tasted indistinguishable from the common or garden button variety on sale at the greengrocer’s across the road.
With its Edwardian housing stock, Earlsdon is one of the few areas of Coventry that can plausibly lay claim to the ‘elegant’ epithet. But in restaurant terms, its demographic – part cash-strapped student, part middle-class Guardianista – is a difficult circle to square. The solution essayed by Street is on-trend South-East Asian street (geddit!) food at no-frills prices. (And incidentally, it’s refreshing to find a menu where the lower cost of vegetarian ingredients is reflected in the pricing structure). But does it work?
Well the potential’s there. Leaving aside the decidedly second-string mushrooms, there were some quality ingredients on my plate: the tofu was tangy – I wish there’d been more of it; the soya beans were plump and succulent and boasted an almost-vanilla sweetness; the vegetables were crunchy (I’d have liked more of them too) and there were decent kicks of warm ginger and earthy coriander. And then there was the egg. The poor little egg.
Now as a concept, I’d never diss a South East Asian deep-fried fried egg. An egg that looks as if it’s wearing brown tulle petticoats beneath its pristine skirts – chewy white and runny yolk – is fine by me. But don’t leave it there. Let that unctuous, lubricating yolk slide over soft, soy-soaked rice and crunchy, just-cooked vegetables: a bit of bliss for every kitchen. Years ago, I started making it at home. I listened to my instincts. They told me it would be a winner – and it was.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work if the yolk is hard. A hard yolk is a static yolk – and its inability to spread the love in a great big slobbery hug robs the whole dish of meaning. But – you guessed it – the yolk I was served at Street was hard. In fact, it was beyond hard. Forget #eggporn – this was #eggmourn. To call it ‘hard’ would be charity verging on Gates Foundation.
It had burst during cooking. Instantly stilled by the super-heated oil surrounding it, petrified as an eggy splat, its colour and texture resembled nothing so much as those polystyrene boxes used for take-aways. But what the Hell. They served it anyway.
They served it anyway. And what that said was ‘sod it – it’ll do’. The un-Asian Asian mushrooms said the same thing, as did (not literally) the waiter who repeatedly addressed me as ‘darlin”. The restaurant has other features I wouldn’t rave about – the wearying grey décor, the fact the Japanese-inspired bench-seating is screwed to the floor, so you can’t pull forwards to confide what you found on your husband’s mobile, or push back to enlarge on how government policy is wrecking the English education system – but I can at least understand them. It’s a business model: food on the go, quick turnaround, don’t let ’em get comfy, discourage ’em from lingering once their plates are cleared.
Whether this can work as well in leisured Earlsdon as it does in city centres – where no one’s got the time to linger even if they’d like to – is something it’s up to Street to demonstrate. But when a restaurant is prepared to spoil a dish for the sake of a fried egg, economics are beside the point. It was an egg. It was pennies. Cooked how I like it (and lest there be any difference of opinion about this, don’t forget there was nothing to stop front-of-house-ers asking me how I like it), it could have sent me home feeling deeply comforted. As it was, it sent me home feeling like I’m someone for whom ‘sod it – it’ll do’ food is good enough. And that, my friends, is not a nice feeling.
Street, 24-26 Earlsdon Street, Coventry CV5 6EJ. Nasi Goreng with Malaysian friend rice, tofu, egg, diced vegetables, spices, soya beans and Asian mushrooms £8.95.