Far Gosford Street, on a March evening of unseasonable mildness. Even to this ancient thoroughfare, which has felt the to-and-fro of city feet along its route for going on a thousand years, the soft, sweet air of spring has made it through.
The gentleness of the evening is deceptive though; over the past few years, the pace of redevelopment along this street has been fast, furious – and uneven. So while the street is bookended by FarGo Village Creative Quarter at one end and the new, fashionably orange-clad student accommodation at the other, and sprinkled between the two with stripped-back bare-beamed restoration projects – a raucous cacophony still predominates, of scuzzy fast food joints and bargain booze.
It’s the place to be though – no question about that. At 6pm, while streets inside the ring road’s grip die down and thin out, FGS is buzzing. Surging towards me come laughing sisterhoods of young women. Young men, meanwhile, climbing out of hastily-stopped cars, clasp their mates and say ‘hey bro’. I weave between them to reach my goal.
Tang, the recently-opened Chinese place that will be feeding me this evening, is itself another symptom of these changing times. It used to be a rather staid Italian establishment, presumably aimed at white British people who thought linguine was a type of seafood and dining out was something you did in a lounge suit. Now it’s yet another fairly basic restaurant in open pursuit of the south-east Asian student spend.
Having said that, the environment here is considerably more congenial than at some other restaurants of similar type that I’ve visited as I fulfil the public service that is writing these reviews. The splotchy whole-wall mural of the Great Wall of China (in fog) makes my heart sink a bit, I admit; but on the whole it’s bright, it’s spacious and it’s been designed in accordance with a unifying theme of traditional Chinese décor. There’s an awful lot of wood (or wood-effect) – tables, chairs, walls, floor – and it’s all rather heavy and creaky-looking for modern western tastes, but at least it’s evidence they’ve thought it through.
At restaurants like Tang, innovation is not really the name of the game. Understandably, it’s all about providing students with familiar tastes of home – quite literally, in the case of my ‘home style tofu’. Which – for what it is – isn’t bad. The tofu comes in generous, wobbly slices, a few of which are agreeably charred around the edges; the onions and green peppers are brisk and crunchy; and the sauce, while generic, is hot and thick and ginger-y, and revelatory of tingly specks of Sichuan pepper tucked away in its depths.
So saying this is one of the better Chinese restaurants I’ve visited might sound encouraging – but don’t hang the flags out just yet. The food is nicely-cooked and good value, but it’s still mucho same-old-same-old. It’s just made a bit more effort than some others, that’s all.
Outside, things remain busy – but the traffic is mostly of the two-legged, rather than four-wheeled, variety. Few people need to drive along FGS any more; through traffic has the adjacent Sky Blue Way, and cross streets can be accessed from the less frenetic Gulson Road. On the city’s anatomical map, FGS has become a vermiform appendix, a benign relic whose original function has been overtaken by continuing urban evolution. To my mind, it’s an obvious candidate for pedestrianisation from Vecqueray Street to the FarGo car park (although re-instatement of two-way traffic at the Binley Road end would be required to preserve car park access/egress).
Pedestrianisation could unlock FGS, giving it space to develop a café culture with terrace seating, and street events spilling the FarGo vibe right right down the hill. The question then becomes one of whether the arrival of artisan coffee shops is the right way forward for a street with a working class hinterland whose inhabitants may not view proximity to boho baristas as their top priority. And anyway, we already have, just a stone’s throw away, a beautiful, cool, unique, pedestrianised city centre that somehow seems to have lost its way. If it’s café culture we’re after, shouldn’t that have first dibs?
Tang, 114 Far Gosford Street, Coventry CV1 5EA (no website). Home style tofu £7.20; Rice £1.80.