The Phoenix, Coventry

OMG, FFS, what am I even doing here? Me: mousy, middle-aged lonely heart; this: full-on student watering hole. I half-expect to be refused entry on grounds that I might contaminate the place with my extreme antiquity, but actually, getting in isn’t difficult. You know when you were younger and you thought an invisibility cloak would be the coolest thing ever? Well, hang on in there. By the time you hit fifty, you’ll be wearing one full-time, and you won’t even know where you got it from. Mine allows me to stroll through the door quite brazenly, without anyone so much as looking up. Now I’ve breached the first line of defence and reached the bar, the two young women standing behind it have no choice but to activate Plan B.

Which appears to be: pretend the mad old bat is speaking a form of the English language so bizarre and so arcane that we can’t possibly be expected understand her. Me: Are you doing food? Barmaids: What? Me: Are you doing food? Can I eat here? Barmaids: What? Me: Food? Eat? Thing you do with your mouth? Barmaids: Oh, right. Yeah, menus’re on the tables.

We go through the same performance when I return to pay. I know the young are reputed to view Baby Boomers like me as had-it-all silver-spoon suckers who – thanks to nothing more noble than entering this world randomly clutching the winning ticket of right time, right place – have spent our entire lives accepting state handouts and rising property prices, the sunkiss’d fruits of which we now refuse to share. But we’ll never sort it out if we can’t even communicate with each other.

I sit down. My dining companions consist of a bunch of workmen spending their lunch-break playing the fruit machine, and a middle-aged white man with a much younger mixed-race girl. He speaks to her in an urgent Eastern European language while she, selecting from a battery of squeezy bottles, repeatedly strafes her chips with long streaks of gloopy condiments, before daintily resuming her knife and fork.

Students, obviously, are summering elsewhere. Their grunge-y spoor is still here though, awaiting their return next month. An armchair spills out its stuffing; one of the ladies’ toilets is blocked; large tracts of carpet are very far from their original colour. The sunny vision of bright-and-cheerful décor that must once have operated here, now survives only fitfully. Mostly, it has let itself go, turned sad and muted from the realisation – perhaps – that those whom it has tried so hard to please are transient souls who’ll never really care. But back to my reasons for coming.

The Phoenix has recently launched a new menu with a large and – on paper at least – quite imaginative vegetarian/vegan section. First thoughts on my ‘khichdi’, when it arrives, are that the imagination stops short of the presentational arena. A slop of yellow-y, porridge-y, rice-y stuff has been crammed down into a battered (as in bashed) enamel dish with some salad on the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t taste quite as bad as it looks. I can actually pick out most of the advertised flavours, and the mushy texture is offset a little by decent slugs of lemon and turmeric. Be warned about the salad though: while the menu accurately describes the kitchdi as ‘not spicy hot’, the salad, with its sprinkling of chillies, is sinus-clearingly fiery.

I don’t really know what to make of The Phoenix. I’d say it was typically student-y if I didn’t think that students these days are more high-maintenance than they were when I was one myself. Back then, living in grotty housing and drinking in skanky pubs was practically a badge of honour – a sign that you were doing student living properly. Now, with all these luxury apartments springing up all over the place to cater for student need, I assumed expectations were higher. I wonder if the stereotype The Phoenix seems to be playing up to isn’t all a bit passé.

It’s only after I’ve left that I realise I forgot to leave a tip. Oh well. Perhaps some stereotypes aren’t so wide of the mark after all.

The Phoenix, 122 Gosford Street, Coventry CV1 5DL. Khichdi (curried cauliflower &rice dish, with coconut milk, spinach, lemon, mustard, coriander and turmeric, served with a dressed mixed salad); £5.95


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