What convinced me that I had to try The Millpool, as I browsed its online menu, was the inclusion, in its starters section, not of dull old leaden-footed ‘soup of the day’, but of something altogether more mercurial: a free-spirited flash-soup reluctantly pinned down as ‘soup of the moment’. Soup of the moment! How could I possibly resist?
Recent refurbishments are very much of the moment too. One day, I don’t doubt someone will present a doctoral thesis on how the rise of social media, and its making public of that which was previously private, was mirrored in our early twenty-first century obsession with living in the architectural equivalent of goldfish bowls. Until then, the large glass box kicking out the front of what is still essentially an estate pub – albeit one that’s now selling itself as much on ‘British dining’ as on traditional booze – is possibly the most on-trend eating environment that Coventry has gifted us so far.
Speaking as a hipster legend then, I’m mildly disappointed to be shown to a table in the original pub, rather than the modish extension. Taking my seat, I find myself surrounded by a lot of people – plus the usual eclectic background of wood, brick, grey paintwork, deep-fringed, boudoir-ish lampshades and Robbie Williams belting it out. The actual moment however, as I learn when I order the famous soup, currently belongs to tomato and oregano.
Now I do realise that thanks to Brexit, the upcoming election is basically a stab in the dark on how to survive the single most unpredictable and perilous period of Britsh Post-War history; and that expressing all that in soup-based format is a big ask for anyone, let alone an estate pub off the Binley Road. But having tasted this woefully underseasoned offering, I can only conclude that it represented a commentary on Theresa May’s alleged strategy of boring the nation into voting Tory.
So while I applaud the kitchen for apparently making soupe du moment themselves, I’m sorry to say that – rather like forcing us through years of anxiety, uncertainty and pain, only to emerge with nothing to show for it but a bill for a hundred billion Euro-smackers – it all seemed like frustratingly wasted effort. Frustrating because it could – and should – have been channelled into something that was actually worthwhile.
And on the subject of Europe, there’s also the soupçon of an Italian Job theme going down in here. (Non-Coventrians may be unaware that the famous car-chase-through-sewers scene was filmed not in Italy’s Alpine foothills, but in Coventry’s own Stoke Aldermoor, just down the road.) The bonnet from a mini is cemented above the servery hatch, and the film’s best-known one-liner is traced onto a wall. So is it in homage to the city’s Italian connections that they’ve included ‘Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini with steamed greens, cheese sauce and Parmesan shavings’ on the menu? God knows.
To be honest, it could just as easily be an homage to a Stoke Aldermoor cheese toastie. Because in an inexplicable move, what might otherwise have been a decent-ish dish seemed, at the last minute, to have been blasted under a scorching grill. Molten Parmesan shavings, as a result, had welded the tortellini into practically a single unit; the cheese sauce was reduced to rubber; and the pasta had dried out. Nutmeg was present but – because the melted cheese was overpoweringly strong – was detectable only if you unpacked the tortellini and ate the dainty filling unaccompanied. The unfortunate steamed greens, meanwhile, had been vaporised out of existence entirely and the whole thing was sitting in an unlovely puddle of melted fat.
I appreciate that with an average twenty-one pubs a week closing in the UK, times are tough for places like The Millpool; you can’t blame them for looking to food as their route to salvation. But in doing so, there is a risk is that they’ll create an unwieldy hybrid with neither the character of the old pub, nor the thrill of a good restaurant. The cooking here, though predictable, does have potential – but grilled tortellini? Man, that’s a step too far isn’t it? You were only s’posed to blow the bloody doors off!
The Millpool, Hipswell Highway, Coventry CV2 5FR. Soup of the Moment, £3.75; Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini with Steamed Greens, Cheese Sauce and Parmesan Shavings £9.95,