Whoa! Where to start with this one? The name, which to British ears is synonymous with ravening wolves, bloodsucking vampires, Vlad the Impaler and not much else? The menu, which while primarily Romanian, also boasts a ‘full English breakfast’ and, in the craziest mash-up I’ve ever seen, a sideline in biriyanis? Or what they gave me to eat, which was quite possibly the strangest assemblage of foodstuffs I’ve been tasked with getting down my neck in Coventry so far?
And yet. Get inside this place, and it’s not bad. Like its near-neighbour Habibi, a narrow frontage conceals a surprisingly spacious interior, extending way, way back in a series of long narrow compartments. And given the Gothic vibe it’s obviously intent on channelling, I suppose the diminishing natural light levels the further away from the entrance you venture might even be considered an asset.
Because – within constraints imposed by health and safety and food and hygiene regs of course – the Gothic heritage of the restaurant’s native region is getting ramped-up to the max in here. Looming out of the walls – along with pictures of convoluted castles, chaste chatelaines and courtly knights – are suits of armour, fake axes and a pair of enormous wooden gates. And with its ceiling beams and faux brickwork to re-create the security of turreted fastness, the place actually feels quite cosy – although I might relax into my snuggliness with an easier conscience were Vlad the Impaler, old Spike himself, not gazing out inscrutably from the drinks menu.
On arrival, I’m greeted not by the house vampire, but by a big bloke in track-suit bottoms who’s friendly enough, but clearly thinks I’m off my head when I enquire about the menu’s suitability for vegetarians. A culture that’s sufficiently full-bloodied to celebrate the exploits of history’s most notorious serial skewerer as acts of national heroism is probably not going to have much time for finicky flesh-refusers.
So from a proudly meat-laden Romanian cuisine, my only option is the ‘Cottage Cheese and Sour Cream with Polenta’ (although, should the polenta prove unpalatable, Track-Suit Bloke chummily assures me that down-home-dirty chips and ketchup are also available). In a panicky gesture towards at least some semblance of healthy eating, I also request cabbage salad on the side. Mine host swiftly bears them all towards me from the semi-open (and incongruously well-lit) kitchen that shines out from way back in the deep interior.
Taken individually, every element of the cottage cheese, sour cream and polenta was fine. The ‘cottage cheese’ was like a brittle feta whose saltiness revealed itself only after a few seconds in the mouth; the sour cream was thick and acidic; the soft polenta was cogent and slightly coarse. It was as an ensemble that it all came apart. Everything was pulling in different directions. Polenta, in its soft form is bland; to find direction on the plate, it needs something like a gutsy ragoût to scoop it up and take it to town. Feta, meanwhile, works best when paired with distinctive flavours that soak up its saltiness.
That said, the main course did at least do what it said on the tin – unlike the cabbage salad. This was a sort of naked cole slaw, divested of the usual mayonnaise in favour of what the menu promised would be olive oil. I couldn’t taste – or indeed see – much olive oil. Instead, the whole thing had been so liberally doused with vinegar that I didn’t finish it.
So what did I learn? As a bar, Transylvania seems to work well. It’s clean, it’s comfortable, and it’s a bit quirky too. OK: you could carp that the décor is hammy – and maybe it is – but that’s all part of the fun isn’t it? If you want Tame Impaler, stop at home and listen to iTunes. As a restaurant, on the other hand, I’m unable to judge it. You’d need a carnivore to do that. What I ate here was very strange and not hugely recommended – but give them a good steak, and who knows what they couldn’t do with it. Er, well…that is…I don’t mean…
Transylvania, 140 Far Gosford Street, Coventry CV1 5DY. Cottage cheese, sour cream and polenta £4.99. Cabbage salad £1.25