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, other visions of the Foleshill Road are available. To the surprise of many (but mostly me – I think I’m the only person sufficiently anorak-ish to take much notice) The Coventry Cultural Strategy sees it fingered as a potential ‘golden mile of food’.
Unfortunately, with a document so conspicuously short on detail – or even mention – of food, it’s hard to know what this aspiration really means. Does it point to an expansion of Foleshill’s existing, mostly highly traditional South Asian offering, in emulation of Manchester’s Curry Mile? Or does it hint that new business and residential developments, already springing up at Tower Court, Paragon Park and City Wharf, will drive gentrification and fuel demand for more sophisticated leisure opportunities? Key to the latter alternative is, I suspect, the Coventry Canal.
Because it’s true that compared to cities like Birmingham and Manchester, which have re-imagined their canal heritage as showpiece leisure and entertainment quarters, Coventry’s canal, running behind the Foleshill Road as far up as the old Courtaulds factory, is a criminally under-utilised asset.
A stroll along the tow path certainly reveals scope for bringing in the bulldozers – although large-scale opening up of the canal frontage from the road would require millions of pounds in investment money and re-location packages for existing businesses. It would also have a potentially shattering impact on the peace and quiet of some of those recently built housing developments. But even without any organised plan, there are signs that the restaurant culture of Foleshill is starting to evolve on its own.
Driving these changes are former pubs being repurposed as Indian restaurants – while remaining recognisably pubs. In fairness, it’s hardly a new trend. Just off Foleshill Road, The Stag and Pheasant on Lockhurst Lane started serving Indian-inspired food as long ago as 2011. Over in the Black Country meanwhile, the ‘desi pub’ has become an established phenomenon; groups of hostelries have even collaborated to host arts trails and other community events. Coventry, as ever, is late to the party. But a new opening and a re-furb in the last couple of weeks suggest that change is finally gathering pace.
The New Horseshoe Bar and Grill, where I ate last week, didn’t offer me anything I hadn’t had loads of times before and was a bit squeaky clean compared to the down-home earthiness of The Stag and Pheasant. But service was friendly and the food was pretty perky – the samosas in particular had a finger-lickin’ rustic feel to them. Additionally, it was terrific value for money, and I could have had sticky toffee pud for afters if I’d had room. Fill it with a mix of diners and drinkers, and the atmosphere issues will soon sort themselves.
But the crucial selling point of places like The New Horseshoe and The Pilot (Burnaby Road) is that they have car parks. Which means that if they can grow their reputation for food and events such as music (The Pilot hosts ska nights), they have the potential to pull in punters (and their hard cash) from outside their immediate neighbourhood. It’s an oddity of Coventry that going up the Foleshill Road for a curry has never been that much of a thing. Could these new openings start to change that?
The ultimate prize here would be the restoration of the General Wolfe. I could actually shed tears when I think about the General Wolfe. That a historic, vibrant and iconic pub has been reduced the soul-less, echo-y waste land that is Toros Steak House, a restaurant so irredeemably dire that TripAdvisor ranks it only just above ‘worst place ever’ Benny’s Chicken Shop, is nothing short of out-and-out cultural vandalism.
The other question is whether it should be left to small businesses to shoulder the burden of regenerating Foleshill Road. Hats off to those that are trying, but to attract real investment, there needs to be a plan. And two years down the line since the Cultural Strategy was published, it’s clear there isn’t one. The ‘golden mile of food’ ain’t arriving any time soon. But perhaps a few rays of sunshine are starting, just tentatively, to peep through the gloom.
Afterword: If any of you curry connoisseurs out there would like a more in-depth review of The New Horseshoe, plus loads of news and updates on desi pubs across the West Midlands, check out this website.