Is this the finest place to dine in all Coventry? Trip Advisor certainly thinks so, consistently rating it Número Uno in the local eatery chart. Even so, it’s not an easy place to find. Tucked away down some steps off a pedestrian backwater behind the new cathedral, there can’t be much passing trade; the clientèle must consist entirely of people already in the know. And word obviously travels fast. If you’re still struggling to locate it, my advice is to follow your ears. The hubbub from the lunchtime crowd means you’ll probably hear it before you see it.
Having tried – and failed – to eat here before, this time I arrive shortly after midday, hoping to beat peak lunch hour. Dream on! It’s already almost uncomfortably rammed, and I end up at a tiny table that I will have to vacate in forty-five minutes to make way for a one o’clock booking. By now, my expectations are through the roof. Popularity is its own testimony! This must be the best! All these people, surely, cannot be wrong?
Well…that’s actually rather a difficult question to answer, and one that really hinges on your definition of ‘best’. Run by charitable organisation Betel UK, Rising Café is undoubtedly a contender for the city’s worthiest place to eat. In its own words, Betel ‘offers free, life-transforming help to people with drug and alcohol addiction’ and pledges that ‘every penny earned in our businesses goes directly towards helping to restore once-broken lives’. With aims like that, of course you’d hope to see it doing well, and it’s great that the people of Cov have clearly taken the project so firmly to their hearts.
My intention on this blog, however, is not to seek out worthiness. The remit I have set myself is to survey, as truthfully as I can, the eating-out landscape available to Coventry vegetarians. And the truth is that the meal I ate here wasn’t hugely enjoyable. To deny that, and say – just because it’s a charity that I’m dealing with – that everything was peachy-keen, strikes me as patronising. The restaurant sector is highly competitive, and I make the assumption that Rising Café needs its popularity to rest squarely on dining experience, rather than because eating here makes diners feel better about themselves.
Regular readers (if there are any) will be relieved to hear that on this occasion, I have no reason whatsoever to make gratuitous references to the 1970s. That’s because today’s theme is strictly 1940s: shabby-chic furniture, walls and surfaces covered in vintage artefacts, and background music from the dance band era. In the precincts of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a single night of enemy action in 1940 and then re-built, this makes perfect sense. Plus, there’s an obvious metaphorical resonance with the restoration of once-broken lives. But in these post-Brexit, romanticisation-of-the-past times, and knowing that there are (for omnivores at least) decent, but almost-empty, foreign restaurants just a stone’s throw from where I’m sitting, I can’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable.
Additionally, there’s the problem that British cuisine of the 1940s is a difficult trick to carry through. My ‘Indian Ambassador’ curry succeeded completely when judged against the needs-must wartime virtues of austerity and fill-you-up blandness; but whether this was a deliberate tribute or just a lack of imagination is something I’m not sure about. It was basically a big bowl of tomato soup (again) fortified this time by mange-tout and semi-submerged cubes of squash and potato. I think chilli powder had been added at some point, but there seemed not to have been any attempt to build up flavour from a paste.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I probably ordered the wrong thing. The real speciality here, I suspect, is traditional British sandwiches and high tea. Cake stands bearing these particular goodies looked very tempting indeed as they swung out of the kitchen; and this would definitely be my destination-of-choice were I aiming to butter-up my war-veteran father. It’s also good to report that staff were friendly and efficient even under immense pressure. Unfortunately, none of this really addresses my central point. It’s a café/restaurant. Should there really be a ‘wrong thing’?
Rising Café – From The Rubble, Coventry Cathedral, Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB. ‘The Indian Ambassador’ curry, £6.50