Godiva’s, Coventry

Interviewed by Midlands What’s On magazine ahead of his upcoming appearance at next month’s Coventry Food and Drink Festival, Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur Jean-Christophe Novelli observed that ‘a good variety of local cuisines will undoubtedly encourage more people to spend more time in the city. Good city-centre restaurants act as great ambassadors for the city and its local producers – they really put it on the map!’.

I wonder if he realises just how little attention our own city centre has paid to this sensible – not to say obvious – advice from someone who knows the industry inside out? Where food is concerned, the council’s biggest enthusiasm has always been for chain restaurants, with their uniformity and ability to assure nervous diners that they’ll know exactly what they’re getting even before they step through the door.

One independent that is bucking the trend – albeit rather feebly – is Godiva’s in St Mary’s Guildhall, which stocks one of the city’s few authentic traditional delicacies, the Coventry God Cake. Positioned somewhere between an apple turnover and a mince pie, the God Cake is thought to have been around in one form or another since the fourteenth century; so it’s entirely appropriate to find it on sale at the Guildhall – which, dating as it does from about 1340, is of approximately the same vintage.

On the day I visited Godiva’s, a selection of tempting pastry triangles was displayed (I’d hesitate to say ‘proudly’) under a cake dome near the entrance. Though prominently labelled ‘Coventry God Cakes’, a bit more flag-waving for their history and provenance would have been nice. (They’re actually made by Nuneaton-based Heritage Cake Company, who have also revived a number of other local sweet-treats including the even less well-known Coventry Corporation Custard.) Why is Coventry practically the patron saint of keeping your head down?

And the same criticism could be applied to the café itself. Located in the vaulted undercroft or basement area immediately beneath of one of England’s finest surviving medieval guildhalls, this is a unique seven-hundred year-old gem of a space with enormous potential. So why is it (God Cakes excepted) dishing up the same dull old fare I could get anywhere?

In a continuation of this spring’s flavourless soup theme, the weary tomato and red pepper offering I had at Godiva’s was was a poor tribute to a vegetable which, when its essential tomato-iness is allowed to condense and intensify, can produce some of the most show-stopping soups of all. The specks of red pepper submerged in its depths were too tidgy to add anything, while the paradoxically enormous croutons jostled for room like icebergs in a pond. Weirdly, they appeared to have been browned on one side only, which also made them disarmingly soft. (Fool that I am, I thought the whole point of them was to contrast with the texture of the soup.)

My fusilli pasta in some ways suffered from the opposite problem: the ‘tomato, mushroom and basil sauce’ was gratifyingly thick and rich, but had gone so heavy on the basil that it was difficult to taste much else. Meanwhile the thick layer of melted cheese topping the oblong serving dish put me in mind of a sardine tin, and almost had me reaching for a key to peel it back; and the sense in which my perennial – and perennially uninspiring – iceberg lettuce and cucumber side-salad was ‘seasonal’ remains a mystery.

Jean-Christophe Novelli’s point is that local farmers, growers, artisan makers and the like should ideally work hand-in-hand with independent restaurants to showcase each other, attracting consumers and other businesses alike and acting as an economic stimulus for the entire region.

None of this can happen, however, when almost all restaurants and cafés are clones that prize predictability (and price) above all else and purchase centrally in order to maintain them. Independents in great locations like Godiva’s need to wake up and seize to the opportunity that this obsession with conformity is gifting them – the opportunity to offer something different and to support other local businesses. But a half-hearted display of pastries is not enough. It’s a whole philosophy and it deserves vociferous, passionate champions who are ready and willing to get excited about it – for God’s Cake!

Godiva’s, Bayley Lane, Coventry CV1 5RN. Home made soup of the day with a warmed crusty roll, 3.65; Fusilli pasta in a tomato, mushroom and basil sauce with garlic bread and seasonal salad, 5.95.

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The Millpool, Coventry

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,

The Establishment, Coventry

The late Peter Cook reputedly said of The Establishment, the Soho nightclub he founded with Nicholas Luard in 1961, that its name was ‘the only good title I ever came up with’. All the more reason then, for the bar/grill/restaurant now occupying ‘the only remaining 18th century public building of architectural distinction in Coventry’ to want a piece of the action. But while Cook’s Establishment gained notoriety as home to a new breed of irreverent comedians and satirists, would its Coventry namesake give me anything to smile about?

Well, the expression ‘called to the bar’ certainly gets a whole new meaning in here. This impressive Georgian sometime County Hall was functioning as a courthouse as recently as the mid-1980s and displays all the architectural splendour you’d expect. The sympathetically-restored double-height bar recreates many of the features of the old court, including judge’s dais, royal coat of arms, public gallery and dock; an offshoot eating area is located in what was once a cell.

On the other hand, the nick is not usually noted for its oversupply of rays of sunshine; and one of the handicaps this listed building grapples with as a leisure venue involves its relationship to natural light. The imperative of protecting court proceedings from streetside gawpers means the windows in the bar, though large, are positioned way above pavement level. Unless it’s warm enough to brave the terrace, you can forget about watching the world go by over a quiet drink.

For obvious reasons, the main restaurant, occupying a former exercise yard, doesn’t have windows either. Instead, it has a huge lantern light in the ceiling, spanning almost the entire space. It’s a clever solution that makes for an interesting dining area – and one whose seclusion from prying eyes creates a delightfully naughty frisson. They should play up to it more. What about a jungle of potted plants that simultaneously echoes the horticultural inspiration of the roof light and creates even more screening?

Because – considering the enchanting uniqueness of this place – the sobriety of the dark panelling and furniture seems rather depressingly safe. And unfortunately, that goes for the menu too. I mean, I’m not seriously (I don’t think) suggesting they make a big thing of ‘porridge’ or a speciality of ‘jailbreak pie’ (possibly or possibly not containing a file), but surely they can show a bit more imagination than bog-standard burgers, pizza and ribs? Especially as, within the limitations of the form, my veggie stacker burger was pretty good, and showed an unexpected flair for vegetarian technique.

It was billed as ‘a tasty veggie patty of lightly spiced spinach and chickpeas, topped with sour cream and mint dip and tempura zucchini strips’. And divested of its suffocating white overcoat, a perky, coherent burger did indeed step out, bursting with nutty, earthy flavours of raw chickpeas. The spicing could perhaps have done with being a bit less light – I couldn’t really taste anything except a faint suggestion of mint, which seemed to be coming from the burger rather than the dip – but the tempura vegetables were whisper-light. Whose bright idea it was to stuff them between a burger and a bread roll, where they were not only flattened by weight but soggified by steam, God only knows. Elsewhere, cubes of watermelon would have benefited from not coming direct from the fridge, but the chips were a triumph: crispy, fluffy, decent size and properly golden – some of the best I’ve had in Cov.

So why, despite that, did I still leave The Establishment feeling frustrated? Because in a city centre whose restaurant scene is in dire need of a bit of wow factor, this place, with its intriguing history and unusual spaces, is ideally suited to provide it. Instead, it gave me an interior that, for all its careful refurbishments, still felt underexploited, and a menu that, while boasting a welcome panache in its execution, was still no different from what I could have got in a sub-average pub. I’d love to see The Establishment do better than this. As to whether the Cov city centre food environment will ever give it an incentive to do so – you guessed it: the jury’s still out.

Update June 2017: The Establishment is set to close this month ahead of refurbishment and re-opening as a new branch of the Slug and Lettuce chain.

The Establishment, The Old Courthouse, Bayley Lane, Coventry CV1 5RN. Veggie Stacker Burger, £9.45.

Update: The Establishment has now closed and is re-opening in late August 2017 as a branch of the Slug and Lettuce chain. Yawn.

Cosy Club, Coventry

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

Blue Orchid, Coventry

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

Coventry Hummus House/Millie’s Kitchen, Coventry

The premise behind Hidden Restaurants, Michel Roux Jr’s latest foodporn orgy currently airing on Channel 4, is that some of the most innovative and exciting restaurant cooking in Britain is emanating from kitchens (many of them run by self-taught ‘food mavericks’) in inaccessible, unorthodox or otherwise highly-unpromising locations up and down the land. Presumably this flight from the high street is driven in part by sky-high city centre business rates. But its – possibly unintended – consequence is a riot of inventiveness. So far, Roux and sidekick Freddy Bird have visited eateries located in, amongst other places, an industrial estate, a back garden and a converted bus.

In light of Roux’s theory, I suppose I shouldn’t expect too much from the street food stalls along Coventry’s all-too-visible Market Way. But as it happens, street food is one of the growth-areas that he’s exploring in his series. Freed from the rigour of Le Gavroche, his two-Michelin-starred haute cuisine gaff in London’s Mayfair, he pings around the more relaxed ‘hidden’ restaurants like a kid in a sweetshop. ‘The thing with street food’ he grins ‘is that every bite has got to count…It’s got to be full of flavour’.

Ignoring the mildly concerning inference that a top chef possibly thinks there are occasions when food doesn’t need to be full of flavour, I kind of understand what he’s getting at. Stripped of the ambient diversion of interior design, street food (ironically, given the series’ title) has nowhere to hide. Or to put it another way, not having to worry about the wallpaper means it can give its full attention to what it’s serving up.

The relationship between Coventry Hummus House, generally considered to be the pick of the Market Way bunch, and its ‘proper restaurant’ rivals exemplifies this. It must irritate the hell out of Turmeric Gold – easily Coventry’s most opulent restaurant with its boudoir-ish east-meets-west schtick – that the local TripAdvisor Top Ten has it locked in a permanent mid-table tussle with this tiny stall, whose only seating is a huddle of aluminium chairs and tables sited literally on the street.

So what is CHH doing right? A number of things, I think. Firstly, it offers a limited repertoire of food it knows inside out, mostly based around its felafel speciality. Secondly, everything is freshly-prepared in-house, from the felafel themselves – shaped and deep-fried in front of you – to the chermoula, hummus, hot sauce and tahini sauce. And thirdly – it’s service with a smile. I was even handed an extra felafel, gratis, to keep me happy while I waited.

And these are great felafel. Thanks to shaping on a traditional holder that looks like a miniature ice-cream scoop, they’re exactly the right size. Their green interior meanwhile, suggests they’re made of fava beans rather than chickpeas, and their gritty, almost squeaky texture is a fantastic contrast to their perfect crunchy shell. Served in a wrap, I might have preferred the accompanying paraphernalia to include a touch more hot sauce and chermoula for a heartier flavour kick, but it’s all part of the learning curve: next time I’ll ask for extra. I’m sure it won’t be a problem.

Equally welcoming is Millie’s Kitchen, an Italian and Middle Eastern stall across the way. In search of something different, I chose the zatar pizza which, as at CHH, was prepared and cooked in front of me – first rolled out, then topped with zatar fresh-in from the Lebanon, then flash-baked in very hot oven. The result was a lovely, crispy, airy thin-crust pizza, possibly slightly larger than I really wanted.

Neither of these places is doing anything ground-breaking; it’s traditional street food, freshly prepared and terrific value. But while that’s fantastic for anyone in Cov city centre needing food on the go, Roux seems to be saying it’s not sufficient for the real foodies. To interest them, you need to pander to their vanity by offering them something apparently available only to those clever enough to be ‘in the know’. The very public Market Way can’t do that. Although on second thoughts, maybe Cov city centre is actually the ideal location for a hidden restaurant. It’s the last place anyone would think of looking for a decent meal.

Coventry Hummus House, Hummus and Felafel Wrap, £3; Millie’s Kitchen, Zatar Pizza (Medium) £3.90. Both Market Way, Coventry CV1 1DY.

IKEA, Coventry

Ah, so this is where everyone’s hiding! City-wide, restaurants lie empty and wasted; but here, even at 2pm on a soft spring afternoon when ancient nature beckons staid humanity to far more joyful japes than traipsing round an outsize warehouse stacked with stuff it doesn’t need, this vast canteen on Floor 6 is doing steady business.

I use the word ‘steady’ advisedly. If I said the place was ‘busy’ or ‘bustling’, I might convey an excitement – a thrill, even – that simply doesn’t exist. Despite the huge dimensions and buzz of people, there’s a curiously muffled quality to the ambiance. The combination of enormous space, big windows, uncluttered white simplicity and dabs of sunny yellow playfulness is so non-threatening it almost lulls you back to nursery days. Is that IKEA’s secret?

A real-ale enthusiast of my ken used to go all misty-eyed about pubs frequented by that Holy Grail he called ‘a good social mix’. He should try coming here. It’s full of all sorts of people, from mums with toddlers, to retired couples, to a high number of lone women (depressing for me, as an habitual lone female diner, that it’s only in places like this that others of my ilk feel comfortable to eat alone), to the pair of charm-merchants at the next table, guffawing over an internet dating site.

‘Man – there’s mature…and then there’s old’ reasons one of them, ogling the profile of some unfortunate woman who’s probably about thirty. I wonder how they’d classify me? ‘Relic’? They needn’t worry though: I couldn’t fancy either of them if I tried. Others have come here specifically for the gastronomic experience. I know this because they ascended with me in the lift and followed me to the restaurant. Unlike me, I assume they don’t have the excuse that they’re conducting research. Because – based on the food I was served – I’ve no idea why you’d eat here if you didn’t have to.

‘Toughness’ is a quality more usually associated with meat than with vegetables. Badly-cooked veg – like the three bears’ beds – can be too soft or can be too hard; but until I sampled the eponymous veggie balls of IKEA’s ‘veggie balls served with wheat pilaf and grilled vegetables’ offering, toughness was a problem I’d encountered but rarely.

I suppose it was because they were so small. They were all crust and little filling. The cosh of whatever cooking process they’d endured had cowed the chick-pea mass at their hearts into a shuttered, defensive shadow, sullenly yielding nothing but a sort of dogged, off-the-shelf savouriness.

Surprisingly perhaps, given how dry and salty the veggie balls were, the dish was served without sauce. I don’t know if it was chef-y calculation or just luck that the accompanying wheat pilaf and grilled veg (it came as an integrated whole) was on hand to ride to the rescue. In other circumstances, I might have derided it as ‘soggy’ and ‘waterlogged’; here, it was a saviour in an hour of need.

I look round. The budding Romeos have been replaced by a woman grabbing mouthfuls of salad between keeping up her end of a phone conversation. If you really push me, I suppose I can see the allure of IKEA: it’s a blank canvas. Anonymous and forgiving (though so architecturally non-standard that I can never enter it without noting in my stomach a small but molten pit of trepidation that I will never re-emerge from it), it can be whatever you want it to be. For some, I suppose that’s comforting; but my problem is – it doesn’t work for food. Anonymous food tends to be uninteresting food.

There’s one thing that may yet draw me back though. My reward for bagging a seat near the window is a panoramic view, looking eastwards over a city centre whose eyes have been drawn elsewhere. Like a mass rally at at ‘70s car plant, concentric rings of redevelopment – the strutting, the shuffling, the sprawling – cluster raggedly around the precinct citadel, awaiting its signal. I follow their gaze. On the ground, so much feels like random jumble: piecemeal, mundane, clueless. Up here, it makes a kind of sense. Cov city centre: the wonderful everyday.

IKEA, 2 Croft Road, Coventry CV1 3AZ. 10 veggie balls with rice pilaf and grilled vegetables, £3.50. Scoop peas, 50p.