According to its own website, the opening hours of Dosa Village South Indian and Sri Lankan Restaurant on Barker Butts Lane are 11am to 11pm. But after turning up there at high noon one day last week only to find it closed, this week I left it a bit longer, and arrived around one.
Happily, it was open – but even so, the waiter seemed a bit freaked by the reality of someone actually presenting themselves for lunch. ‘We’ve only just opened!’ he pleaded, before adding, in tones that suggested he yet nursed hopes that I might think better of the whole idea and push off to the pub down the road instead: ‘Do you mind waiting ten or fifteen minutes?’ Ten or fifteen minutes? Of course I don’t! I could name places where I’ve waited a lot longer than that and never even been offered an explanation.
The interior of the restaurant – the leisurely contemplation of which was my reward for that indecently untimely arrival – is pretty basic: wooden tables, dark and heavy, in places badly scuffed; dark chairs; walls painted in what I would have described as a rather violent shade of green if the realisation hadn’t dawned on me that I’d recently chosen an almost identical hue for re-decorating my spare bedroom.
Don’t expect the service to come with much finesse either. My starter and main were both served on plastic trays. My sparkling water was not only not sparkling, but had perforce to be swigged straight from the bottle because no more refined drinking vessel was forthcoming. And the waiter – who was friendly and informative once he’d recovered from the shock of the ‘customer-walks-into-restaurant-wanting-food’ scandal – positively encouraged me to eat with my fingers because, as he cheerfully explained, ‘South Indian food tastes better that way’.
I was happy to comply. In fact, by the end of the meal, I was complying so fully that (between you and me), I was furtively running round the inside of the chutney dishes with my finger and licking it off, to just to be certain not a single drop went to waste. And I’m not sorry. Because this was quite possibly the best vegetarian meal I have ever eaten in Coventry.
For one thing: what a pleasure it was to sample fare that was so unlike anything else I’ve been served on this journey so far. The idli (steamed rice cakes) I ordered for my starter had the texture of slightly dough-y white bread – their blandness designed to soak up the flavours of the chutneys and sambar served as accompaniments. Of these, the velvety coconut chutney disguised a surprising spikiness, the sweetness of the coconut coming through only as an aftertaste. The sambar, the remains of which I spooned up like soup when I’d finished the idli, was hot with chilli and cumin, but also earthy with lentils and astringent with tamarind. Only the onion chutney disappointed slightly. It looked and tasted like nothing more adventurous than upmarket tomato ketchup.
As main course, I had the Mysore Masala Dosa, served with the same three accompaniments. The dosa itself was huge and crispy round the edges. The stuffing of fried potatoes and onions meanwhile, had the deliciously sticky texture and warm, comforting flavours of a sort of Indian bubble and squeak. I suppose I could say it seemed a slightly undersized helping compared to the size of the dosa. But maybe I’m only saying that because it was so delicately and perfectly spiced that I wanted to save a dollop to take home in a big box to graze on later, straight from the fridge.
There was also something about Dosa Village that whispered ‘authentic’. Encouraged, I suppose, by the unpolished environment, I felt, for once, that I was getting downhome dirty with a lushly-delicious regional cuisine. On the basis of what I ate here, I would wholeheartedly recommend Dosa Village – but only to diners who have the sense to see past the rough edges of uninspiring décor and on-the-cheap accoutrements. I would also question why they opened the doors if they weren’t ready for service. But trust me: when you’ve waited months to find food this good, an extra fifteen minutes ain’t nothin’.
Dosa Village, 72 Barker Butts Lane, Coventry, CV6 1DY. Idli, £3.95. Mysore Masala Dosa, £4.45.