Last week, it was reported that Hull, UK City of Culture 2017, has noticed (rather belatedly you might think) that it may not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate all the visitors it expects to welcome during its special year. I don’t know where Coventry, currently bidding to be UK City of Culture 2021, stands with respect to room quotients, but I am gradually becoming aware that it may have another, slightly different problem: it doesn’t have enough places to eat. Or at least, not enough places of the quality that an influx of high-maintenance fusspot foodie culture-lovers is going to expect.
Like some kerbside bag lady, I have used several of my recent posts to rant from the margins about the laughable poverty of this city’s food culture. I’m happy to say that I have now found a glimmer of hope – and significantly, it’s located in a hotel. Why ‘significantly’? Well, because a hotel must field a larger-than-average number of requests for decent places to eat. At the Ramada, a vertiginous smoked glass and concrete brute of a tower, ugly even by Coventry’s standards, maybe they got so embarrassed about having so few places to recommend, that they decided to take matters into their own hands. They unveiled their ‘modern British’ Queens Road Restaurant late last year.
Inside, the place is done out in standard grey, with carefully placed bright red salt mills providing artful spots of colour on every table. For some reason, they put me in mind of Britney Spears’ Oops! I did it again video – not a vision I greatly want to have. That apart, there’s something unmistakeably hotel-ish about it. I don’t know if it’s the slinky lounge music, the deadening effects of the over-stuffed furnishing, or the distinctly odd decorative flourishes. I mean, where but a hotel would you be confronted with large faux-Rococo portraits in which the expected human head is replaced by the head of a dog?*
Anyway, Monday evening. There’s a reason why I’ve selected tonight for my trip to QRR: it’s their ‘meat free’ day – meaning not that the restaurant doesn’t serve meat at all, but that as well as the vegetarian options on the main menu, the rotating daily special is also guaranteed vegetarian. Tonight it’s (and pedant that I am, I quote exactly) ‘vegatable curry with basmati rice, onion baji and mint and cucumber yogert’. Ewww! Sorry guys, but spelling matters. Mistakes give the impression of inattention to detail. And that, as far as your food goes, would be a wholly false impression.
Because the ‘oyster mushroom and spinach tagliatelle, shallots, Devonshire cream, truffle oil’ that’s placed before me is very good indeed. (It’s not just the prices, the fashionable greyness and the heavy linen napkins that proclaim that this aspires to be a better class of restaurant – it’s also the crap-cutting purge of frivolous prepositions and conjunctions; cooking is serious).
Every element is perfectly judged – from the pasta itself to the just-just-wilted spinach, to the generous scattering of squelchy oyster mushrooms, to the properly velouté sauce. My only teensy complaint would be that although the sauce was lovingly-crafted and a fittingly milky tribute to those Devonshire cows and their dappled meads, it didn’t actually taste of all that much, and certainly not of truffle oil. It needed just a shade more edge, I felt.
At £12 for a single (vegetarian) course, it’s also well above the going rate for tight-wad Cov, and (I was surprised to find) on a par with the Michelin-starred Cross at nearby Kenilworth. Put like that, I suppose it seems a bit over-priced; maybe it reflects that fact that little else of this calibre is available inside the city limits. But it’s exactly what we need more of.
Why? Well, suppose Coventry does succeed in its bid to become City of Culture 2021? (And I’m not saying it doesn’t deserve to; I wouldn’t dis my city like that.) How can it ever hope to leverage maximum economic benefit if everyone just decamps to the happier hunting grounds of Leamington or Kenilworth every time they hear their tummy rumble, and spends their money there?
Queens Road Restaurant, Bar and Grill, Ramada Hotel and Suites, The Butts, Coventry CV1 3GG. Oyster mushroom and spinach tagliatelle, shallots, Devonshire cream, truffle oil, £12
*After reading Giles Coren’s How To Eat Out (not an activity I would greatly recommend to others), I now have an answer to that question. Apparently something very similar adorns the walls of Champneys Health Spa (p259).