Call me over-sensitive, but few things infuriate me more when I visit a restaurant than seeing staff treat other customers differently from how they treat me. When I arrived at Antalya Turkish Restaurant, a bored-looking waitress handed me a laminated sheet describing a severely-restricted lunchtime menu. When I asked her if the full menu was available, she said no, it wasn’t. By the time a much more attractive, much younger couple had come in, asked the same question and been answered by a suddenly-eager waitress with a smiling affirmative, it was too late for me; I’d already ordered.
Having said that, even if I had been offered the full monty, I’m not sure I would have chosen anything other than what I chose. It would have been nice to have the option, that’s all. For starters, I went with the falafel. I’m always a bit conflicted about this. While it’s interesting to widen my gastronomic horizons by trying new things, when I’m in a Middle Eastern restaurant I always feel duty-bound to sample this much-loved regional staple because – according to a personal theory – it acts as a kind of ‘bellwether dish’: the falafel’s good, you know you’re in safe hands; the felafel’s dodgy, you know you could be in for a rough ride.
So when my falafel arrived, looking (and tasting) decidedly underwhelming, I resigned myself, once again, to dining on disappointment. The hard and rather thick outer crust and dry-ish interior suggested they’d spent too long in the fryer. Likewise the hummus, served as a dipping sauce, was was adequate but unspectacular. It’s never an encouraging sign when a restaurant produces food that makes me think longingly of my fridge at home, and specifically of the bowl of ballsy, home-made hummus waiting to blast me with parsley, garlic and paprika the minute I open the door.
The whole point of theories, though, is that they’re there to be disproved. And on this occasion, it’s back to the drawing board for me because – in a happy reverse – the ropey-ness of my falafel was no guide at all to the fantastic quality of my ‘vegetable soute’ main course (the name, I think, is a variant spelling of ‘sauté’). Served with a small helping of rice, it was basically just a mixture of nicely-cooked Mediterranean vegetables in tomato sauce. But what a sauce!
Complex, dark and run through with fresh parsley, it had a intriguingly sweet-ish aftertaste from a sprinkling of what could have been cinnamon or possibly allspice. After I’d finished the rice, I found myself greedily mopping round the serving dish with slices of soft, home-made flatbread, just to make sure I didn’t waste a single drop.
Satisfaction settling on my stomach, I was now disposed to cast a more generous glance around the restaurant itself. I’m always a bit wary of applying my culturally British judgements to the interior décor of establishments serving international cuisine, because I’m conscious they may be referencing a design heritage entirely different from my own. Viewed through contemporary British eyes, the mirror-veneered tabletops and brown-and-white plastic covered chairs hover precariously between irredeemably naff and on-trend retro; on balance, I think they just about retain the right to the more charitable interpretation.
But by any assessment, this is an appealingly streamlined and uncluttered environment, with an open kitchen, big airy windows and even a hopeful streetside terrace from which to survey the hospital bus route and the glories of Heron-Foods-that-fairly-obviously-used-to-be-Woolworths. Sadly, even good food and pleasant surroundings can’t entirely disguise the fact that you’re eating in a scruffy 1960s block on a main artery between Cov city centre and the Midlands motorway network.
There are areas where Antalya could improve, most notably the service and the falafel; but for Coventry, two ticks – and two pretty big ticks at that – out of a possible four isn’t bad going and I would recommend giving it a try. But if you want to get the most out of the experience and like me you’re middle-aged and even those – always doubtful – good looks you once enjoyed are fast fading into memory, here’s a helpful tip: maybe have plastic surgery first?
Antalya, 124 Walsgrave Road, Coventry CV2 4AX. Falafel, £2; Vegetable Soute, £7.99