I wish I’d come here in deepest winter. And the heating failed. I had a gag lined up that started with the colour blue (used meteorologically), progressed to the etymology of ‘orchid’ as a word, and ended in a punchline about freezing my balls off. Whether I used it or not would depend on how much else Thai-Indian mash-up Blue Orchid gave me to smile about. And the outcome is *drumroll*: I’m not using it (except that it was too good to let go, so I’m using it anyway).
Like Ivy House – lately otp – Blue Orchid viewed from the outside is another of those places with an oddly-provisional feel to it. Positioned behind Aqua Food and Mood and accessible only via a surface car park, it’s basically a flat-roofed, single storey, white-rendered oblong, with a clunky brick portico-type-thing stuck incongruously onto the front of it. The accompanying rash of twee uPVC bow windows meanwhile, could have been discarded from someone’s house, just after they’d realised that high-1980s frilliness no longer represents a current look.
And then – there’s the hulking great Ramada Hotel tower and adjacent multi-storey, from whose side Blue Orchid appears to have slid out like a oversized underwear drawer. In their shadow, the unexpected overall effect is weirdly Alpine. If you imagined the surrounding buildings as a mountain range, the dwarfed Blue Orchid could pass for the base camp watering hole.
Step inside though, and you’re whisked direct to the tropics. Although the restaurant boasts both a Thai and an Indian menu, the accent is very definitely on Thai. Thai artefacts and pictures of Thai buddhas adorn the walls of the long and narrow single-room dining area.
The provisional feel shows its hand again in here. Joss sticks and soft lighting attempt to compensate for the limitations imposed by the room’s shape: intimacy always risks being the casualty when seating along one wall is a single long banquette. Above your head meanwhile, in deference, perhaps, to after-work diners seeking escape from the grind, a tiled, office-y ceiling is rather awkwardly disguised behind billows of low-hanging drapes.
Even without the fairly hefty shove I was getting in that direction, I had already decided I would eat from the Thai menu when I visited Blue Orchid – mostly because Coventry has loads of Indian restaurants but (that I know of) only one other place that does Thai. And I think it was the right decision: my ‘tod man khao pod’ starter (deep fried sweet corn cake served with sweet chilli sauce) was very enjoyable.
Four good-sized cakes was a generous serving, and although I thought they were very slightly over-cooked, they still preserved a nice texture, fluffy and just moist enough. Sweetness from the corn was balanced by a little bit of heat but mainly by a background tang of something citrus-y, presumably lemon grass. The only disappointing element was was the sweet chilli sauce, which was turned out to be the usual over-sweetened gloop that never really adds anything.
For main course I had the ‘hed gratiem’ (stir fried seasonal mushrooms with garlic and pepper) with Thai egg fried rice. In early spring, I suppose I shouldn’t complain that only common-or-garden button mushrooms seemed to be in season at the moment, but I still felt a slight pang of disappointment that nothing more interesting was included.
It was a pleasingly fresh-looking dish though, with soy used more as a condiment than a sauce, allowing the vegetables’ flavours to shine through unmolested. Firm quarters of mushroom worked well against fat, slightly charred strips of red pepper and snaps of coriander. The only jarring note was the garlic, some of which was burnt and bitter. The Thai egg fired rice was properly sticky. I’d finished it before I even noticed.
Service was polite and attentive without being overbearing, and was well-deserving of a decent tip, but – a word to the wise – it’s worth being aware that the bill comes with a ‘discretionary’ ten-per-cent service charge already included.
I walk home through the streets – always strangely empty – of this rather overlooked corner of the city. Despite my earlier misgivings, a visit to a Coventry restaurant has, for once, left me with quite a warm feeling.
Blue Orchid, 14 The Butts, Coventry CV1 3GR. Tod Man Khao Pod, £4.50; Hed Gratiem (as a main), £6.50; Thai Egg Fried Rice, £2.75