My big beef with bar/restaurant chain Cosy Club has always been the same: beneath the innocuous, snuggly-wuggly handle of the first half of its name lurks a concept that’s inimical to women. The clue? The second half of the name of course. So while its carefully-crafted image is a laid-back and endearingly kooky vision of ‘mansion splendour meets village hall eccentricity’, its real inspiration seems, to me at any rate, more likely to be the infamously misogynistic world of the gentleman’s club.
You understand it the minute you sit down and look around. You will be dining, you can’t help but notice, under the watchful eyes of many antique portraits – the majority of which depict conspicuously successful men. So here they are then: be-suited men, be-medalled men, men showing off their status-symbol gee-gees. Rather uncomfortably sharing a wall with a youthful-looking Prince of Wales, looms out a sternly disapproving Prince of the Church.
And if you still haven’t got the message yet, sad-eyed hunting trophies surveying the scene from on high are here to reinforce it for you, as are pictures of early aeroplanes, flown, one assumes, by intrepid men. Of their smaller number of female counterparts, one is starkers – but as she’s John Collier’s Pre-Raphaelite rendering of Lady Godiva, I suppose we can excuse it, just this once, as a dash of local colour.
Unfortunately, Cosy Club’s penchant for befitting architectural grandeur (its Birmingham branch is housed in the neo-classical pomp of a Grade II-listed former bank) comes slightly unstuck here in Coventry, where it’s forced to slum it in neo-Legoland Cathedral Lanes. ‘Cleverly clashing’ is how its website fronts out the jaw-droppingly brutalist bare-concrete ceiling. Yeah right. In reality, it has me doing a double-take and wondering if I’ve inadvertently walked into a re-fit.
Having said that, this huge first-floor space with its ‘4.7 miles of reclaimed wooden floorboards’ is genuinely likeable, and the big-windowed balcony allows excellent views over the modernist citadel of Broadgate (made all the better because from this angle, Cathedral Lanes itself is not part of it). So in spite of everything – and although I’d really rather not – if I do-or-die had to pick a favourite amongst Cov city centre’s chain restaurants, this would be it.
Possibly it’s age-related. 1970s mood-music creates an ambience my generation finds reassuring; and according to some calculations, mansion house plus village hall adds up to the comforting certainties of the traditional pub. And certainly there is a refreshingly large contingent of people my age in here, including a smattering of suits. (As an aside, I’ve often thought that one of Cov’s many dining deficiencies is that there is nowhere really impressive for businesspeople to schmooze prospective clients over lunch).
For my own lunch, I choose the Oriental Sesame Noodles with with baby spinach, pak choi, red chilli, marinated carrot, sesame dressing and halloumi – mostly because it sounds like a car-crash. I mean (imagine this next bit delivered in John Torode’s incredulous Masterchef Round One hiss if you like) stir fry with cheese?! Really? Salty soy, backbone of oriental cuisine, against salty Mediterranean halloumi? Should I put an ambulance on stand-by while I’m waiting?
In fact, it’s not as quite as injurious to my blood pressure as I’d feared. It is salty – but the toffee-ish tahini dressing (it’s a well-travelled dish – it also boasts redoubtable northern European red cabbage) buffers it somewhat, plus the halloumi comes in smallish, well-scattered pieces. My main concern is that the task of offsetting the saltiness falls to the noodles and vegetables alone and – nicely-cooked though they both are – their flavours are neither strong nor complex enough to provide anything but minor relief. The £12.95 price tag makes it pricey for Cov.
So it makes no sense. By rights, I should loathe Cosy Club – the concept, the so-so food, the fact that it’s a Cathedral Lanes chain. But I don’t. I’m guessing it’s because in Cov city centre, there are so lamentably few venues to match its casual, bistro vibe. Probably that says more about Cov than it does about Cosy Club.
Cosy Club, Cathedral Lanes, Coventry CV1 1LL. Oriental Sesame Noodles, £12.95