All right, I know what you’re thinking: what’s an oik like me doing in a classy joint like Da Vinci, in the heart of Coventry’s fashionable Earlsdon? I mean, this is a restaurant so steeped in old-fashioned courtesy that the patrone himself, after showing me to my table, waits for me to be seated before plucking up a snowy linen napkin, deftly flourishing it free of its elaborately-folded shape and – somewhat to my embarrassment – placing on my lap. So what am I doing here? I wish I could answer that I’m enjoying a nice lunch; but that would be only partly true.
What I am greatly enjoying is the environment: it’s really lovely. Despite all the ham-fisted attempts at ‘progress’ perpetrated on the Coventry street scene in the past few years, Earlsdon continues to prize its old-time village-y feel, and Da Vinci certainly makes the most of it. Huge plate glass windows overlook not only the bustling high street, but also a small terraced area, positioned at slightly above-pavement height.
Inside, the walls are painted in understated cream, and other decorative details tend towards the tasteful, minimal and relevant (n.b. the reproduction of the Mona Lisa, casting her enigmatic gaze over the dining area). And it’s obviously doing a lot of things right: even on a chilly Monday lunchtime, enough people are eating here to bathe me in the warm, eclectic hubbub of conversation from other tables. This place has roots.
Service is prompt, and so efficient it seems to be striving for invisibility. A duo of immaculate waitresses, hair scrunched tightly back as if to concentrate their focus, soundlessly ferry plates of food to and from the tables. I’ve barely had time to nibble at my dish of indecently plump olives before a bowl of lentil and vegetable soup arrives. It’s so hot that I have to leave it to cool down.
And I have to report that when I do finally feel safe to raise it to my lips, I regretfully chalk it up on the ‘less enjoyable’ side of the Da Vinci account – although to be honest, it was heading in that direction on the basis of looks alone: thin-ish, mud-coloured and topped off with a swirl of chopped parsley mixed with what may or may not have been scum. It had enough gumption – just – to project the earthiness of the lentils and a rumour of celery, but the whole thing was so woefully under-seasoned that it was more like the way-station lentil soaking-water than it was the finished article. I also didn’t appreciate having to shell out an extra £3.45 for some slices of baguette to go with it, especially as some of them were so rock-hard that they were totally inedible.
From the meagre selection of vegetarian mains, I choose the Gnocchi Genovese. Like the soup, which was also generous in its proportions, it’s a vast plateful and I struggle to get through it. It’s not the taste: the gnocchi are light but chewy, and apart from the sprig of monster basil draped over the top, the pesto flavours are subtle rather than thuggish. I think the problem is me: I eat much less dairy these days, and on the odd occasion when I do find myself confronted with a rich cheesy sauce, I find it uncomfortably cloying.
Da Vinci is a great little neighbourhood restaurant; if it set up shop at the end of your street, you’d be well chuffed. Plus – and here I’m giving away far more about Coventry than I am about Da Vinci – its seemingly effortless combination of relaxed ambience and high presentational standards set it it well apart from the habitually slapdash Cov restaurant pack. But it is ultra-traditional; and while that’s not a criticism, it may mean it’s slow to react to changing food trends.
So while I’d love visit again, unless it adds some lighter, fresher vegetarian dishes to its repertoire, I just don’t think I’ll find anything I fancy eating. I walk home quickly, in a laughable attempt to counteract the effects of all the fat I’ve just ingested.
Ristorante Da Vinci, 50 Earlsdon Street, Coventry CV5 6EJ. Soup of the Day, £5.45; Bread and olives, £3.45; Gnocchi Genovese, £10.95