Promising customers ‘the taste of the Indian village’ always seemed a bit of a gamble, or so I used to think when I passed Paratha Wraps Indian Village on the bus. True enough, it hints at the holy grail of Authenticity; but I can’t help thinking that (broadening the meaning a little) it also conjures up certain pungent aromas that cosseted western sensory organs may find a little difficult to…stomach, as it were.
And leaving behind the purely metaphorical, Paratha Wraps also has an uphill battle on its hands when it comes to real-world sensory experience. Part of a parade of small units that collectively form a sort of cadet wing of the World Food Quarter – lately OTP – it’s positioned directly opposite that hymn to the architect’s craft, Pool Meadow Bus Station. The intervening Fairfax Street might plausibly be re-named Diesel Gulch.
I don’t know if making a go of it in this tough training-ground means that a restaurant will eventually get promoted to the World Food Quarter ‘proper’, just around the corner, and win the right to rub shoulders with the likes of Pizza Grill and Han Dynasty. But I rather hope not; because this plucky little street-fighter, with its special deals for bus and taxi drivers, works much better down here – amid the Fairfax Street fumes – than it ever could on the windswept wastes of Priory Place.
I could make a case for saying it’s a sort of Sub-Continental transport caff. There’s no arty-farty-up-your-arse waiting tables here. You order at the counter, and if there’s no one about, you ping one of those brisk desk-top bells to summon them from out the back.
‘Hello love’ says the lady proprietor, after being thus alerted to my presence. ‘What d’you want?’
‘Spot of lunch?’ I query. ‘Maybe?’
She puts a sheet of laminated A4 in front of me: the menu. ‘Choose from off there then ring the bell’ she says, before disappearing again.
‘I’ll have the kofta curry’ I say, when she comes back. She regards me doubtfully. ‘It’s vegetarian’ she says finally.
‘I know. I am vegetarian’. She shrugs. ‘You want it with rice?’
‘Er, no’ I say ‘I’ll have it with paratha’. What with them being the house speciality and everything. It occurs to me that I’m being made the object of a very mild form of cross-cultural misperception here; but as it’s all in the interests of research, I don’t really mind.
I help myself to a glass of tap water from the jug on the counter, then go and sit down. The environment I find myself in is fittingly unpretentious. The tables, surrounded by mismatched chairs, are covered in wipe-clean oilcloth in a green-and-white gingham design. The walls are painted with murals that I guess are meant to conjure up the interior of an Indian village dwelling. Music seems not to be a feature of village life.
As it turns out, I’ve been quite lucky in my choice of food. While other customers approach the counter only to be informed that their selection is ‘off’ (as in ‘unavailable’ or maybe ‘not ready yet’; TripAdvisor agrees that this can be a problem here), my kofta curry – ‘spicy vegetable balls in a rich sauce’ – arrives promptly. And it’s really, really good.
Because it’s more like a soup than a stew, it comes with a spoon rather than a knife and fork. It’s quite acidic from tamarind, but there’s sufficient depth of spicing from cumin and fenugreek to balance it out. Heat comes from the perfectly-cooked koftas, whose finely-grated potato interior must have seen an addition of chilli. The parathas are soft, warm and non-greasy. The whole wonderful lot sets me back £7.
As someone who’s never been to an Indian village, I’ve no idea if a single mouthful of Paratha Wraps’ food could make me believe that the Number 9 bus had taken taken a rather large detour and transported me back to one; I’m unable to judge it against that criterion. But what it did give me was good food, great value for money, and a bit of character thrown in. In Cov City Centre, I’ll take that.
Paratha Wraps Indian Village, 3B Fairfax Street, Coventry CV1 5SR (no website). Kofta Curry with rice or two rotis, £6.00 (or £7.00 with two plain parathas instead).
Update March 2017: Sadly, Paratha Wraps appears to have morphed into a take-away branch of Pizza Hut. Not good news.