Is my work here done? Back in 2016, on a website that no longer exists, I wrote these words: “What we’re crying out for is someone to take the plunge and set up a really great independent modern restaurant in Coventry. It’s a city of nearly 350,000 people, for God’s sake! The opportunity is immense!” With the news that multi-award-winning Michelin-starred Brummie kitchen-whizz Glynn Purnell is planning a restaurant at the soon-to-be-restored Charterhouse on London Road, I’ve got my wish, haven’t I? I could put a big fat sock in all this food malarkey and get on with writing poetry reviews full-time.
There’s no doubt that Mr Purnell’s announcement is cause for celebration: it’s nothing less than a landmark moment in the evolution of food in Coventry. For one thing, this will be a destination restaurant. Its arrival will mean that Coventry food enthusiasts, who until now have had to hightail it out of Cov if they want to get their foodie fix, will have a reason to stay here instead; and just as crucially, foodies from beyond the city will be eager to visit and splash the cash .
It doesn’t end there, either. In a local-economy-boosting virtuous circle, the new restaurant is certain to provide a welcome stimulus to Coventry and Warwickshire producers. In comments he made in a press release, Mr Purnell said he wanted to “use locally sourced ingredients to produce mouth-watering combinations with mind-blowing wines to match.”
My only reservation – and I’m aware that here I’m going to sound like some hair-splitting, nit-picking, never-satisfied Coventry-food-commentator equivalent of Jacob Rees-Mogg – is the location. I mean, I’m sure the restoration of the coach house will be stunning; the historic Charterhouse and seventy-acre park are fascinating and beautiful; and I’m thrilled that Mr Purnell is generously looking beyond his own interests to view his new venture as “a massive opportunity to bring such a strong food brand into Coventry and to hopefully be the catalyst of an explosive new food culture.” But isn’t this also a massive missed opportunity to do all that from the city centre?
Because it’s not just that the bottom end of London Road is – to put it kindly – not pretty; it’s also that it offers scant opportunity for developing a satellite community of strolling-distance bars and entertainment venues around the restaurant. Meanwhile the city centre, literally minutes away, but functionally inaccessible to pedestrians thanks to a forbidding tangle of Ring-Road-dodging crossings, subways, unlit footpaths and exhaust fumes, is begging not for an anchor store (forget it; that ship sailed long since) but for an anchor restaurant to lead it out of the morass. My fear is that after dark, the Charterhouse will be a place that people drive to get to, then drive away from – as irrelevant to the city centre as Coombe Abbey.
To make a real difference, it will also be necessary for Mr Purnell, or at least his team, to be visible in Coventry, to champion its food culture and create opportunities for upcoming local chefs to to develop and showcase their talents. I’m not saying he won’t do it; I sincerely hope that when he talks of ‘catalysts’ and ‘explosive new food cultures’, it’s evidence that this is exactly what he’s planning. But his brand is, and will continue to be, strongly associated with Birmingham. Will his commitment to our city be sufficient to create for us our own food identity?
But enough of carping! We need to remember that what Mr Purnell has gifted us, and what we should be very grateful for, is a tremendous vote of confidence in Coventry, both as a city and as a place with an appetite for better food. If others, in the light of this endorsement from as big a fish as Glynn Purnell, are forced to re-consider their attitude to the city’s potential as a foodie powerhouse, that can only be a positive outcome. So on that basis: welcome to Coventry, Glynn Purnell! – and if you want a tip from me, you’ll seize with both hands this unrepeatable opportunity to name ‘deconstructed pork batch’ as your menu item Numero Uno. Go on – I dare you! #Coventry #itsabatch 😉