Coventry’s London Road, where old meets new in a noisy, dusty mish-mash. On the one hand, the ever-expanding university – stealthy, reptilian – nosing out weaknesses like tree-roots in a wall; on the other, the cut-price tile place, painted such a brash shade of yellow that you wonder why anyone would entrust even the inside of their shower cubicle to the taste of whoever thought this was a good idea.
London Road Cemetery meanwhile, seems restive behind its stout retaining walls; rebellious graves like stony fingers almost break out onto the road in places but, confronted with the dual-carriageway, are brought up short, and don’t venture further. Unquiet rest is the punishment for their temerity. Once a proud highway, its name ringing with portentous journeys to hoped-for fame and fortune, London Road is now the grimy, fume-clogged A4114. Pity those condemned to spend eternity lying beside it.
Continuing the eclectic theme is what must once have been a decent parade of amenity shops for the weary council estate that fronts the southbound lanes. These days – cheaper supermarkets and changing habits having seen off the original butcher’s and greengrocer’s – it’s lapsed into a jumble of random retail outlets that few will ever be in regular need of: cake shop, curio shop, fishing tackle emporium, red-brick-boozer-turned-temple-to-the-cuisine-of-India – and the Thai Dusit. It’s an unassuming little restaurant, highly regarded by locals. About time I gave it a try then.
Inside it’s surprisingly spacious. The old shop and back room have been knocked through and further extended into a pleasant area lit by a roof lantern. The colour scheme is inoffensive – beige, pinky-orange – and decorously positioned pictures and artefacts adorn the walls. It’s mildly seventies I suppose, but not in a knowing way. There’s a neatness and an orderliness here that whispers competence, rather than excitement.
The crispy deep-fried vegetable wontons with sweet chill dipping sauce that I have as starter are tiny, beautifully crafted and crispy to the point of brittleness. I eat them slowly, urging every mouthful, as I crunch, then chew it, to come on, come on and give me some flavour. None does. Perhaps the sauce, the usual sticky red stuff, is drowning out subtle undertones? I try one sauce-less. Still nothing.
I bite one in half and examine the filling in the uneaten portion. I detect mashed potato, a kernel of sweet corn – maybe knowing what I should be tasting will trick my brain into believing it actually tastes it? Sadly no. Delicate little things like these – their only strategy to overcome the combined efforts of the dipping sauce and the disproportionate wrapper must be to pack eye-popping punches of flavour. Such a shame these don’t.
The main course, Thai red curry with vegetables, is again simply but flawlessly presented, and there are plenty of things to like about it. The Thai fragrant rice is cooked to finger-lickin’ perfection, and the vegetables are fresh and crisp. Unfortunately, these are just peripherals. It’s the curry sauce that’s the heart of the dish, and no amount of rice and veg, however fine, can compensate when that fails to beat.
Being generous now, I could say it works as comfort food. Mostly, this is because I keep being drawn back to the thought that it’s like a big bowl of slightly superior tomato soup with some veg chucked in. I can taste a mild background of coconut and some warm hints of chilli, but what I can’t taste is any attempt at complexity; none at all. No spicing, not even a garnish. I can’t say I don’t like it. But neither can I say I’m blown away.
This is one of the better restaurants I’ve visited in Coventry, but given the standards at some of my other destinations, that’s not saying much. The lunch was good value, but like the faceless, untraceable muzak that was playing as I ate, it all seemed a bit safe. As I leave, I’m faced again with the garish yellow carnival that is the cut-price tile place across the road. Sometimes, I reflect, less really is just…less.
Thai Dusit (at the time of writing, website appears not to work), 39 London Road, Coventry, CV1 2JP. Lunchtime set menu £8.55 for two courses.