On the day Donald Trump became President-Elect of the USA, I was having lunch in Coventry’s Cyrus Persian Restaurant. On the wall to my left was a big-screen which, when I sat down, was enhancing the dining experience with a selection of Olly Murs videos. At some point during my perusal of the menu, it switched to a kind of Middle Eastern MTV channel, and I waited for, then ate, my starter against a background of smiley, sub-Eurovision soft-rock delivered by leather-trousered matrons who looked nearly as old as I am.
All of which, you might think, was quite disturbing enough for one meal. But you’d be wrong. My main course arrived – the mood changed. To dark. To very dark. On screen, in graphic detail while the waiter placed my meal before me, a self-absorbed young man sang a schmaltzy song as he killed his friend by covering his head with a clear plastic bag. He then went home and, still singing the same song, used a crucifix to trash his luxury apartment before driving off in a big sports car. Patrick Bateman – whose hero was Donald Trump – had become the stuff of background muzak. It was like an omen. It told me Trump would win.
Cyrus welcomes you with a clean, uncluttered dining area that successfully combines the modern taste for big windows and wide-open spaces with modish retro touches, like the bouquet of metal butterflies on the wall next to the TV. For my personal taste, it’s all a bit beige (remember I’m the woman who’s recently had the walls of her spare bedroom painted pistachio green), but I appreciate that a guiding principle has been at work here, creating a reassuringly professional, streamlined feel.
Doing my best to ignore the distraction of the TV, I try to concentrate on my falafel starter. It’s worth the effort too, because it’s good: the falafel, soft and not over-cooked, are well-flavoured with cumin and retain that slightly gritty texture that tells me the chickpeas have been handled respectfully and not simply blitzed to a pulp. On the other hand, the ‘tahini sauce’ that comes with them is, I think, just a euphemism for neat tahini mixed with a drop or two of lemon juice. It provides a not-unwelcome acidity, but I can’t decide whether the resistant, decelerating texture that coats my mouth – like ice-cream that won’t melt – is interesting or just weird.
For main I have Bamieh Okra Stew, described as ‘okra stewed in a deliciously spiced tomato & tamarind based sauce, served with saffron basmati rice’. Although I’m assured it’s completely vegetarian, it’s a disconcertingly meaty-looking dish; its dark brown gravy swathes the vegetables so completely that there could be almost anything in there. It arrives complete with a surprise garnish of chipsticks (and here, dear readers, we pause for mystery of the week: what made them think chipsticks and stew was an elegant combination? If I wanted chips and gravy, I’d go down the chippy) and a huge pile of vaguely musty-tasting rice.
Sadly, the stew itself is little more inspiring. From the okra, it derives a gutsy glutinousness unusual in a vegetarian dish, and there’s a parting shot of acidity, more from the tomatoes than the the tamarind I think. Unfortunately, the ‘delicious spicing’ seems to have taken the day off – leaving the rest of it adrift in a sea of blandness.
To my left, the bloke with the bag on his head drops down dead in open-mouthed panic. Other diners drift out. Soon the only person left in here is me, and sensing that I probably don’t speak Arabic, the staff thoughtfully retune to BBC News 24. The polls have opened in America. Donald Trump is upbeat.
Cyrus isn’t a bad place, but I won’t be coming back unless they dump that telly. I have the right to expect that a meal out will be a haven of brief sanctuary from ill-advised trouserage, random asphyxiations and Donald Trump’s swagger. Lord knows there’s enough of that waiting for all of us back outside. My hour of suspended animation over, I open the door to step back into the flow that will carry me home. The real world awaits. It feels cold. Very cold.
Cyrus Persian Restaurant, 72-74 Albany Road, Coventry CV5 6JU. Falafel, £3; Bamieh Okra Stew, £6.90.