In what is no doubt indicative of an underlying laziness, I’ve not so far reviewed any Indian restaurants on this blog because it’s so easy to subscribe to the received wisdom that ‘they’re all the same’. But with New Indian now so well-established a thing that it might even – I dared to hope – have spread to this serially-overshadowed corner of the West Midlands, I decided the time had come to set aside old thinking and test out how far My Dhabba Indian Street Food could challenge my preconceptions.
So let’s start with the good news: the restaurant’s interior succeeded in challenging them pretty comprehensively. I suppose the day will dawn when ‘Retro-Indian’: a wry re-imagining of those well-worn clichés of late twentieth century sub-continental restaurants – swirly carpets, flock wallpaper, waiters who become inexplicably deprived of their auditory powers the moment you request a jug of tap water – is bang on-trend. Until then, an arsty, truncated triangle of a building that from some angles looks uncannily like an old-fashioned tram wobbling round the corner into Spon Street, is fine by me.
With large windows along three outside walls, for once natural light isn’t a problem; and indeed the airy theme continues inside the restaurant, where unfussy white walls set off to advantage a selection of brightly-coloured hippy-trail-esque quilts and (possibly somewhat incongruously) a display of what looks like Indian popular music LPs from that rather better-groomed era, the early ‘60s.
By Indian restaurant standards it’s a smaller-than-average venue and it’s also refreshingly unstuffy – no stiffly-upright booths, no heavy damask table cloths, no waiters in bow ties. One thing you do need to be aware of if you’re coming here though, is that it doesn’t have an alcohol license (I believe you can bring your own booze if you wish).
Thankfully, the casualness doesn’t extend to the service, which is prompt and polite. Even so, as I survey the solitary on-the-house poppadum that policy has granted me whilst I await the arrival of my main course, I can’t help thinking that in its only-ness, it manages to make whoever runs this place look a tad grudging. More depressingly, it also rubs my nose rather too deeply for comfort into my unavoidably single state. I know I’m alone in a world of couples and I know that probably I always will be. But I’m dealing with it. And I certainly don’t need to be helpfully reminded of it by a bar snack.
Anyway, turning to the menu proper – I can’t really fault it. From a commendably large range of vegan and vegetarian main courses, I choose the ‘whole white chick peas and potatoes infused in a blend of ginger, garlic, abundance of caramelised onions and cumin seeds’ accompanied by pillau rice. It’s a perfectly serviceable dish – although I’d hardly describe it as ground-breaking. The gravy that bathes the vegetables tastes like a variant of the standard curry-house garlic-ginger base; but it is lifted quite some way above the ordinary by the soothing flavour of perfectly roasted cumin seeds that suffuses it.
This place clearly has a good reputation. Even at seven o’clock on a Tuesday evening, it’s buzzing with a wide variety of diners: my neighbours at other tables include slightly uppity groups of what might be work colleagues de-briefing over a curry, to couples enjoying romantic meals à deux, to families whose definition of quality time appears to be conducting their various mobile phone conversations while sitting all together round a table.
If you’re a vegetarian/vegan looking for an evening meal in Coventry city centre, you could do a lot worse than My Dhabba. I’d struggle to identify anything particularly ‘new’ or even ‘street’ about the food I had here (unless eating curry with your hands has become a thing), but there was a good variety of choices, the food was nicely-cooked and the environment was non-standard and interesting. All I could really wish for is a wider variety of other independent restaurants round these parts who could boast of even that much.
My Dhabba, 1-3 Lower Holyhead Road, Coventry CV1 3AX. Whole white chick peas and potatoes infused in a blend of ginger, garlic, abundance of caramelised onions and cumin seeds, £5.95 (rice and other sundries extra).