There’s something inescapably masculine about a restaurant that calls itself a ‘kitchen’. That utilitarian focus on the process of production has a definite whiff of the engine-room about it, a no-frills, roll-your-sleeves-up work ethic that eschews your airy-fairy feminine fripperies. ‘Cooking’ it seems to say ‘is not for cissies’. Eating is not for cissies either – or so I concluded after Bailey Lane Kitchen’s ‘stir fried vegetables with noodles’ gave my masticatory muscles the best work-out they’ve had in ages. (All right, settle down at the back. My other current blog is about Great British Bake Off, and it’s hard to switch off sometimes).
It started so well. Located in one of the few genuinely picturesque corners of Cov city centre, Bayley Lane Kitchen and Cocktails Bar faces the old cathedral across a quiet cobbled street; not a tetris-clad student accommodation block in sight. It’s a handsome building too, its sober sandstone facing respectful of its older neighbours, its steep, Dutch-style gables and tall narrow windows marking it as subtly different.
Inside, there’s a slightly scratchy meeting of industrial, shabby chic and (for some reason) sunshine yellow, but overall, the atmosphere is relaxed beneath the rows of Edison bulbs (Yawn? Whaddaya mean ‘yawn’? This is Coventry, not Shoreditch. Edison bulbs are still a novelty here). I choose a table near the windows, from which to survey the open kitchen.
Although – fair do’s – it’s quarter to two in the afternoon, I’m a little surprised to be offered the ‘everything’s eight quid’ lunchtime menu and nothing else. I’m further nonplussed to find it’s not the same menu as I’ve seen on the internet; but nevertheless, when I notice it boasts no less than four different vegetarian options, I’m mostly placated. I order the stir-fried vegetables with noodles.
It’s only while I’m waiting for my meal to arrive, and another group of diners comes in and is eagerly greeted (by a different waiter) with a cheerful ‘Hello! Have you come to try our new menu, just started today?’ that the menu discrepancy issue starts to resolve. But relief at enlightenment is swiftly overtaken by main menu-envy. When I arrived and asked if they were still doing the lunchtime menu, they must have assumed (wrongly, as it goes) that I meant ‘I’m a stingy bastard, give me a cheap meal’. But they could have mentioned the main menu, especially if they’re so proud of it – where’s their chutzpah?
My stir-fry, I notice, is sitting on the pass. The chef is sprinkling it with something – later found to be sesame seeds. It looks a generous helping, I think approvingly. The waiter (the unenthusiastic one) carefully brings it over and places it in front of me. My first impression is that it looks…simple – but hey, it’s a stir-fry so what do I expect? And anyway, there’s nothing wrong with simple if it’s well cooked and tastes good. So how does it rate?
Well, as far as taste goes, it isn’t bad. The vegetable pieces are disappointingly small and soggy (except the celery pieces, which are large, almost incongruously so, and borderline raw), but they’re salvaged to an extent by a pleasantly hot and gingery sauce, with a slight tendency to over-sweetness. It’s actually a pity the saucing isn’t more generous, because a bit of extra slathering might go some way towards mitigating a more pressing problem: the noodles aren’t cooked.
In fact, they’re so undercooked that it’s like chowing down a bowl of rubber bands. And such is my devotion to duty, I even go as far as buying a packet of fresh egg noodles on my way home to have with a Thai curry the next night, just to check that the laugh isn’t on me for failing to appreciate that the ‘true’ noodle should be hard. Conclusion: the true noodle shouldn’t be hard.
If BLK can’t even cook a noodle, it hardly bodes well for the more complex culinary arts. Almost the best thing on the plate are the dewdrop-fresh coriander micro-herbs. I’m gutted because this is an independent restaurant in a prime location and I had high hopes. Later that day, jaws still aching, all I can say is: guys, time to show your softer side.
Bayley Lane Kitchen and Cocktails Bar, 24 Bayley Lane, Coventry, CV1 5RJ. Stir-fried vegetables with noodles, £8 (lunchtime menu).
UPDATE (Spring 2017): Following a fire in January, Bayley Lane Kitchen was forced to close. It is supposed to re-opening, but no news on when.