I don’t suppose recent refurb job The Golden Cross in Hay Lane will thank me for saying this, because I don’t doubt they’d like to be busier – but if you want a quiet pint in pristine surroundings in Cov city centre, this could your place. When I was there the other day, the most exciting thing that happened was the entrance of a diligent elderly couple on a fact-finding mission connected with Project Pub Lunch – evidently still at the research stage.
Built in 1583 and in use as an ale house since at least 1661, The Golden Cross is, for Coventry, that rarest of beasts: a beautiful historic building. And while it’s unfortunate that that internally, practically nothing survives of the original fixtures and fittings, refurbishment of the cosily-proportioned ground floor has been reasonably sympathetic.
Aged-effect beams (they seemed to be faux, but perhaps – what do I know – reasons of preservation dictate that hearts of oak should beat beneath thick plastic skins), smoke-effect stove, flagstones and farmhouse furniture create a mellow and unpretentious drinking-cum-dining area with views onto the cobbled streets around the old cathedral.
Access to a beer garden was also promised via a door near the bar, but on the day I visited the weather was way too cold to make further exploration an inviting prospect. Much warmer, happily, was the welcome inside: staff were friendly and clearly keen to impress. So much promise. So much disappointment when the food, the thing I’d actually come for, fell so flat.
In the last few years, I’ve noticed that spinach, chick pea and sweet potato curry has become something of a pub staple. I’ve chowed it down in hostelries across the land, from central London to rural Shropshire. And at its best, with a healthy background of aniseed from fennel or star anise, it can be serviceable pub grub.
Sadly, what I had at the Golden Cross was not an outstanding example of the genre. Whatever spicing they’d used was at the invisible-to-undetectable end of the spectrum, meaning that the sweetness of the potato (which came through almost too well) encountered scant effective counterbalance. There were unconfirmed rumours of chilli in there, and of turmeric too – but as that’s also a sweet-ish spice, its contribution, while doubtless well-meant, served only to exacerbate the problem. Almost at the end, a burst of something more muscular elbowed its way through like a big bloke running for the last train, but after that, it was as comfortless as the empty platform at midnight.
It was also a notably stingy portion – I’m no supersizer, but I was unimpressed with a curry main that covered not much more than a quarter of a standard dinner plate. If the hope was that the double-denim accompaniment of poppadom and rice would in some way mitigate its smallness, all I can say is – dream on.
Contact between poppadom and curry never really works: exposure to sauce just makes the poppadom soggy, which defeats its purpose. Thinking about it, I suppose that knowing it was going to be served in such close proximity to the curry could explain why the kitchen took the otherwise bizarre precaution of coating it with a glaze of glossy cooking oil. Maybe it was water-proofing. I think a better solution would be to quit fannying about with poppadoms altogether (the greasiness of this one was actively unpleasant and meant it tasted exclusively of – guess what – cooking oil), and give me instead a whack of curry that looks like you mean it.
Finding that this rather feeble attempt at a main hadn’t completely assuaged my hunger, I did something I don’t normally do: I had dessert. The cheesecake was er…not great, but I won’t dwell on it because believe it or not, I actually want the Golden Cross to succeed.
There is a great big hole at the centre of this city with a flag reading ‘decent dining’ flapping dejectedly above it. And it would be so nice to see a historic pub in a bijou location make a more serious stab at filling it. So here’s the question I’m asking today: Golden Cross? Or Golden Opportunity?
The Golden Cross, 8 Hay Lane, Coventry, CV1 5RF. Sweet potato and chick pea curry served with rice and poppadoms, £6.95; Cheesecake of the day, £5.95.