The Pod, Coventry

For some time now, I’ve been trying and failing to visit The Pod Café in Cov city centre’s under-utilised Lamb Street. Vague-but-tantalising internet references suggested we were talking wholly vegan venue – but repeated strolls past the slightly scruffy-looking mental health centre where it was reportedly located conveyed no hint that foodie wonders lay within. Perhaps they should re-name it the Shangri-La? In the end, I went in and asked. And I’m very glad I did, because it turns out the The Pod isn’t mythical at all – it exists. And it’s very, very good.

OK, there are downsides. For one thing, there’s no escaping the fact that you’re eating in a council-run social services facility: the dead hand of health-and-safety hangs heavy in the air. Want to eat at the café ? You’ll have to sign in at Reception then. This obstacle successfully negotiated, you approach your goal via a connecting corridor – only to find, when you finally arrive, that it’s yet another vegetarian eatery that doesn’t benefit from natural light. They’ve made the best of it with a photographic exhibition on the walls and an exquisitely-worked banner around the subject of women’s mental health, but the dark carpet tiles and safety-glassed doors are functional rather than pretty.

On the other hand, if writing these reviews has taught me anything, it’s that Coventry is a city whose restaurant culture serves up disappointment almost as its signature dish. Brimming with anticipation as I always am, how many restaurants have I visited over the months that cruelly dashed my hopes by promising so much and delivering…so little? But I’m happy to report that’s all in the past now; because now I’ve found a place where the reverse is true. Any lingering niggles about doors and carpets simply evaporated into the ether when the nicest lunch I’ve eaten in ages was lovingly placed before me.

I had the rotating daily main course, which on the day I visited was Indonesian curry served with pakora and side salad. In the Indonesian fashion (as chef patiently explained when I expressed my unenlightened ignorance), the curry was more like a soup, poured over ribbon noodles and served in a bowl. It was a joy. In terms of flavour, the balance was near-perfect: shimmering strands of coconut and lemongrass remained completely discernible against a warm but not overwhelming backdrop of chilli. And the three distinct textures – soft vegetables, just-chewy noodles and liquid sauce – made for a satisfyingly varied dish.

And it didn’t end there – along with the curry came a shoal of chick pea pakoras, a dipping-bowl of mango chutney and a generous pinch of salad. The pakoras, light and crispy, bore not a trace of cooking oil. I used them a few times to scoop up the chutney, but then decided the chutney was so good that I wanted to experience it in its pure state. Forget that over-sweetened half-asleep stuff you buy in jars from the supermarket; this was juicy, wide-awake and set my taste-buds pinging. Only the salad disappointed slightly; the shredded spinach (or it might have been chard) was contrastingly earthy, but felt, perhaps, just a tiny bit too virtuous.

I’m not going to say that the best bit was the price. The best bit was finding vegan food of this quality in the middle of Coventry, and I’d have paid twice as much without hesitation just for that. But at £3 (3.50 with a bottle of carbonated water) it’s an absolute steal. And what’s worth even more, the staff were friendly and approachable, and across the servery of the semi-open kitchen, happily answered my questions about the food and the café itself.

Unearthing a hidden gem is the Holy Grail of any restaurant reviewer, and they don’t come much more hidden than this – Lamb Street seems to have been overlooked even by ever-wakeful Cov Uni. But sandwiched between the Jesus Army on one side and the Salvation Army round the corner, maybe The Pod also needs to be a bit more militant in proclaiming exactly how wonderful it is (they had a sign for the outside, they told me, but it got nicked). So here’s my contribution: if you’re in Cov city centre on a weekday lunchtime, just go there.

The Pod, 1a Lamb Street, Coventry CV1 4AE. Rotating daily main course, £3.

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