This week I’m indebted to Martin off Facebook, who said of the Foleshill Road ‘[it] could be a superb city street if it didn’t still look like a bomb site at the bottom end and vanish into the Ring Road in a blaze of cheap warehouses and weird empty spaces’. Nice one, Martin. I couldn’t have put it better myself. As it happens though, alternative visions of the Foleshill Road are available. The recently-published Coventry Cultural Strategy for example, sees it fingered – to the surprise of many – as a potential ‘golden mile of food’.
With a document so short on detail about the future of food in the city, it’s hard to know what this aspiration really means. Does it point to an expansion of Foleshill Road’s existing South Asian offering, much of it unapologetically positioned at the cheap-and-cheerful end of the spectrum? Or does it hint that new business and residential developments – already springing up at Tower Court, Paragon Park and City Wharf – will fuel demand for more sophisticated leisure opportunities?
To be honest, there’s scant evidence that this latter alternative is already happening. Aachi, the homely-looking South Indian/Sri Lankan outfit I’m visiting today is typical of how that bustling, characterful stretch of the Foleshill Road that extends between, roughly, St Paul’s church and the junction with the A444 (beyond Martin’s ‘blaze of cheap warehouses and weird empty spaces’ in other words) has presented itself for decades past.
So, despite its five-star (top) food hygiene rating and friendly welcome, Aachi’s interior is not a sight to gladden the heart. ‘Weary’ is the best descriptor I can find for its enervating, eighties-hangover mauve-and-black colour-scheme. A half potato on a plate, surrounded by ash and prickled, hedgehog-style, with burnt-down jos sticks, is the probable source of a heavy, perfumed scent that assails my nostrils as I enter. The proprietor, noticing me looking at it askance, sticks a Bollywood channel on the TV and whisks away the offending item once he thinks I’m suitably distracted.
Under the circumstances then, the brilliance of my chilli paneer starter comes as a pleasant surprise. Except that the tameness of ‘pleasant’ as an adjective comes nowhere near doing justice to the rip-roaring, hat-waving, kiss-my-sky-blue-arse-and-do-me-a-Checkatrade-Fandance kind of surprise that roared from this unlikeliest of kitchens like sweet, sweet victory, thirty years in the coming.
Here were succulent, just-seared red and yellow peppers, whole cloves of slippery garlic, nested leaves of caramelised onion, a scattering of coriander, and a complex, fresh-flavoured mixture of hot, sweet and sour. But amidst these many jewels, the paneer still managed to be the Pink Star diamond.
I mean that almost literally. Small soft cubes of the stuff (a triumph in itself, as ‘small’ is too-often synonymous with ‘leathery’) are clumped together with a sort of red and gooey chilli toffee. I’ve never had anything like this before, and I want to have it again – soon.
When I check the bill, I realise that in a reversal of the usual order of things, the starter cost more than the Mysore Masala Dosa main. Unfortunately, this does make sense because after such a banging first course, the dosa was – like winning the Checkatrade Trophy, only to find yourself, just a few short weeks later, relegated to League Two – something of a let-down. I don’t mean it was bad; for the money, it was perfectly reasonable. It just wasn’t as up there as the paneer, that’s all.
Apart from occasional bursts of fenugreek, the masala was under-spiced, I thought. Plus, the vegetables in the accompanying sambar were too soft for me, and it tasted like nothing more adventurous than standard curry-powder had been used in its production. The coconut chutney, meanwhile, was straight-up odd. It tasted quite harsh, and while it looked OK in the pot, once it got inside my mouth, it weirdly split into paste and juice.
The Coventry Cultural Strategy covers ten years from now until 2027. I wouldn’t bet against the this part of the city changing quite substantially in that period. The question is – if the Foleshill Road moves upmarket, will places like Aachi still have a place in it? And do we want them to?
Aachi, 494 Foleshill Road, Coventry CV5 5HP. Chilli Paneer, £4.80; Mysore Masala Dosa, £4.39.