China Red, Coventry

That sauce. I don’t even need to taste it. As soon as my main course is placed before me and I realise it’s drenched in viscous day-glo gloop that looks like it was made from orange wine gums rendered down, I know. This is not going to be an enjoyable experience.

Partly it’s my own fault. From China Red’s terrifyingly bloated menu, that thuds onto my table like a walrus landing on an ice floe, I shouldn’t have been such a sap as to settle for the heavily-sanitised-for-nervous-British-palates lunchtime fixed price menu. And for that lapse, Gez7253 off TripAdvisor is firmly in the frame.

‘We ordered mini spring rolls and chicken satay sticks’ thundered he in a recently-penned review for that august organ. ‘Three of each came out and the spring rolls were almost empty of filling’. Was he right? Figuring that the state of its spring rolls might give a reasonable clue to China Red’s overall health, I had to know. And the heavily-sanitised-for-nervous-British-palates lunchtime fixed menu looked like the place to find out.

And as it happens, Gez mate, you were spot-on – although celebrations will be muted at this time. My own spring rolls, flattened, dented and dry as crackers, look like brown envelopes with the contents shoved back hastily inside because they’ve brought bad news. Except in this case, it’s the whole thing that’s bad news, envelope included. Without much enthusiasm, I sink the end of one of them into the formulaic sweet chilli dipping sauce. It doesn’t taste any better.

Spring rolls despatched (no very onerous undertaking, when you consider how tiddly they were), I look around at the interior design. And know what? I like it. The sleek and unpretentious dark-and-blonde wooden panelling is sort-of 1960s chic. And although the view over Hertford Street is not the most uplifting Coventry has to offer, the large windows let in plenty of light and give me something to look at – apart, that is, from the counter-top lucky cat, eternally motioning us all to be seated.

The young South East Asians who form the entirety of the clientèle all seem to be enjoying elaborate and interesting-looking meals. Which makes my disappointment all the more acute when my own main course arrives. My sweet-and-sour vegetables with egg fried rice is basically a decent slew of innocent veg, undeservedly condemned to ignominious death by drowning in a sauce that looks and tastes like it’s been spawned from the evil union of  tomato ketchup and glue. *Shudders*.

But I refuse to sink to its level. Although China Red is doing everything it can to make me hate it, I won’t be giving it the satisfaction. Because I’ve a niggling hunch that lurking beneath the craptacular surface of the lunchtime menu and its Chemical Brothers sauces, lie the bones of a decent restaurant, if you know what to order. So let’s think about this.

That China Red is not averse to taking the piss is evident from the heavily-sanitised-for-nervous-British-palates lunchtime fixed price abomination. So I could almost believe that its groaningly over-stuffed main menu is actually meant as a satirical commentary on the contents of its spring rolls. But guys – you’ve had your fun. I know (really) that it’s a tribute to a rich regional cuisine. But if you want to attract a wider audience, what’s needed here is simplification. Big-time.

As a minimum requirement, introduce some congruence between your online and your on-table menus. Then, decide what you do best, and give us a set menu that’s a true reflection of it. The staff I met were refreshingly friendly and welcoming: train them up to guide British diners towards making the right choices.

Unusually for me, I think I might give this place another go at some point, see if I can induce it to give me something better. For today though, I walk home rubbing my tongue around my teeth as I try to wipe from them every last tenacious trace. Of that sauce.

China Red, 56 Hertford Street, Coventry CV1 1LB. Two course set lunch £9.50.

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