Shin Ramen, Coventry (re-visit)

Since I became a so-called judge of Coventry’s restaurants, I’ve not been afraid tell it like it is. In my efforts draw attention to the lamentable state of the local eating-out situation, I’ve likened the dining experience at one restaurant to having my teeth scaled at the dentist’s but minus the enjoyment; I’ve castigated food as ‘craptacular’ and service as ‘charmless’; and in a review I have not so far had the guts to make public, I have called upon the people of Coventry to ‘be insulted’ by the standard of cooking at a restaurant lauded to the skies by the sages of TripAdvisor. And I stand by all of it…except for one bit.

I always had a nagging suspicion that I was a tad unfair to Shin Ramen, the Japanese restaurant in the World Food Quarter. I visited last May – a period when I had even less idea of what I’m doing than I have now – and although I gave credit for the careful preparation and presentation of the constituent parts of my vegetable ramen, I ended up whingeing that the completed ensemble was not greatly to my taste. Poor me.

Since then, I’ve had the not-entirely-unalloyed pleasure of eating in a lot more of Coventry’s restaurants – an experience that has given me the opportunity to reflect, to reassess, and finally to appreciate that Shin is, as it turns out, one of the better ones.

Why? Well, unlike some places I could mention, it’s a serious restaurant whose food preparation is overseen by a serious chef. Its unshowy interior is airy and comfortable, and, additionally, its Japanese cuisine offers diners something distinctive in the heart of Cov. For all these reasons, it merits serious review.

So when one of my Twitter correspondents tweeted the suggestion that I should go back there and give the ‘Yasai Bibinba’ a try, she was pushing at an open door; I had already decided that I should revisit Shin and correct, if necessary, the mistakes of the past.

Second time around, and the décor hasn’t changed, so I’m not going to waste time re-describing it. If advance study of interior design is essential to your enjoyment, check out TripAdvisor or read my previous post. The target market being students, the ambient music is a bit loud and frenetic for my querulous old-person ear drums – but the service, while on the slow side, is friendly even to a sad-sack loner like me (who no doubt looks like she’d punish with the severity it deserves any suggestion that she ‘push the boat out’).

When I was at school, I had a Saturday job in a café. For reasons I’ll leave unexamined here, its lasting legacy to my psyche is a deep and abiding aversion to tomato ketchup. So I was mildly alarmed that my pumpkin korreke starter, when it was placed before me, immediately assailed my expectant nostrils with aromas of none other than the dread condiment of my youth (technically, I think it was tonkatsu, but they share DNA). The korreke (croquettes) were actually very good – their melting interior contrasting beautifully with their crunchy breadcrumb coating – but on balance, I’d probably prefer them not to arrive ready-drizzled with tonkatsu and questionably-Japanese mayonnaise.

The Yasai Bibinba itself (‘a mix of vegetables and egg served with rice in a hot stone bowl’) is a simple concept – a bowl of rice, its surface quartered into four different toppings and crowned by a fried egg. Contact with the hot bowl had dried out the rice, leaving it sticky and clumpy and rather heavy for me; the toppings, meanwhile, ranged from the slightly ‘meh’ (beansprouts) to the very good (earthy, metallic wilted spinach with sesame seeds; pickled carrot and cabbage with real frisson). The egg yolk could have been a bit runnier.

Thoughts, after two visits? Shin is a definite contender if you’re looking for something different in Cov city centre. It’s not adventurous Japanese cuisine, but it’s an independent, it gives a damn, and it’s the one restaurant that conveys a tiny inkling of what, with a breath of life-giving oxygen pumped into it, the collapsed lung that is the World Food Quarter could one day become.

Shin Ramen, 2 Priory Place, Fairfax Street, Coventry CV1 5SQ. Pumpkin Korroke £4.20; Yasai Bibinba £7.95 (10% discount for cash).

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