I don’t know – you wait months and months for a restaurant to serve your food on a piece of slate, and then it happens twice in two weeks. And at Pizza Grill Restaurant in Priory Place’s World Food Quarter, they even went one better than that: not only did my starter of crispy mushrooms sit atop the hallowed stone – it came cradled in a mini chip basket as well!
With Christmas just around the corner, I thought I might have to knock the reviewing on the head for a bit, because everywhere would be so rammed with works parties that perennial singletons like me wouldn’t get a look in. The World Food Quarter – somnolent as ever – doesn’t let me down though. If it weren’t for the freezing temperatures, I might have thought myself teleported to the middle of drowsing, depopulated August.
Inside the restaurant, my fellow-diners are all young, and mostly speaking languages other than English – I suppose they’re students. Foreign students seem to be almost the only patrons of World Food Quarter. I don’t know why local people haven’t taken it to their hearts. It’s true that Han Dynasty, its windows covered in exclusively Chinese script, makes it clear that if you don’t speak Mandarin, you needn’t bother. But Shin Ramen is a great little restaurant, and this place, PGR, serves exactly the kind of crowd-pleasing grub that everyone’s supposed to love. I sometimes think Coventrians just aren’t very interested in food.
Stepping through the door of PGR is like entering the tardis: from outside it looks pretty pokey, but inside it’s so huge that even full-length windows at both ends don’t let in sufficient light to dispel, from dining areas spread over two floors, a central roost of gloom.
The other mystery is why, in an eponymously pizza-orientated establishment whose blurb makes much of its ‘Italian chefs’ sprinkling their ‘Italian herbs’ about the place, there’s so little in the décor that’s actually saying ‘Italian’. The colour-scheme, predominantly blue and ochre, seems more North African or maybe even Mexican. Carved chairs, palm trees and unpainted wooden panelling add to the confusion, while the menu design apparently draws its inspiration from the Lascaux caves of southern France.
My crispy mushroom starter of ‘deep fried mushroom garlic balls served with sweet garlic tartar sauce’ is, for all its fancypants presentation, almost unutterly terrible. The crispy coating is overcooked, leaving it dry and brittle, and when I bite into it, scalding mushroom liquor floods out and burns my lip. The accompanying sauce tastes like mayonnaise run through with some sort of branded chilli-tomato gloop. A simple garlic mayo would have done the job much better.
My main course, on this occasion, is easily chosen. I’m intrigued by the menu’s description of ‘spaghetti in a testy (sic) plum tomato sauce with cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil’. Is it a misspelling of ‘tasty’? Or a comedy mistranslation of ‘arriabiata’ (literally ‘angry’, but used in Italian cuisine to mean ‘spicy’)?
I find out when the waiter, with a charmlessly heralding ‘eeyarr!’, unceremoniously dumps a dish of pasta down before me. Tell-tale tide-marks up the sides show that even on the short journey from the kitchen to my table, it’s been subjected to a fair bit of sloshing. It would be overstating it to say it reminds me of Heinz Spaghetti Hoops – although the too-soft pasta does, a bit – because the sauce, although on the watery side, isn’t all bad. It does at least taste of tomatoes and the onion and garlic are identifiable and not overcooked. I just wish (vegan alert) it didn’t come ready-mixed with parmesan. Ho hum.
And actually, I do know why World Food Quarter is so unloved. There’s a sterility about it – as though it owes its existence not to love of conviviality and good food, but to the council, who tasked a consultant to develop a concept. PGR, with its random references, cardboard English and sloppy service crystallises this. It has the look of somewhere that’s been unpacked overnight, from a box marked ‘misc. restaurant stuff’, and could melt away again just as quickly. It’s a place with no heart. So why give it mine?
Pizza Grill Restaurant, 4 Priory Row, Coventry CV1 5SQ. Crispy Mushrooms £4.25; Spaghetto £7.95.