According to a recent article in The Guardian, regional Chinese cookery is bang on-trend. And thanks to huge numbers of South East Asian students enrolled at Coventry University, it’s something that – along with other South East Asian cuisines – is readily available at numerous restaurants right here in the city centre. Most of these places are aimed squarely at students pining for of a taste of home. But could they also have something to offer eager food fans from other backgrounds? In this new series, I’m on a mission to find out.
Name: Yakii Sushi and Noodle Bar
Location: Unit 4, Fairfax Street, Coventry CV1 5SR
What I ate: Tempura Vegetables with Firecracker Sauce (£7.50)
Welcome and service: I suspect the first waitress I encountered didn’t speak English. Her reaction to the arrival of a customer who potentially didn’t speak anything but English appeared to teeter somewhere between serious alarm and all-out panic – or so I gathered from the universal language of facial expression. A colleague better equipped to deal with me was hastily rustled up. Thereafter, service was efficient, if not particularly friendly.
Décor and ambiance: Pleasing. Interior: spacious and uncluttered, easily meeting a design brief that presumably specified “quietly – but still firmly – Japanese”; even a back wall entirely covered in plastic ivy didn’t spoil it. I’m not sure if it was the champagne-hued melamine table surfaces, the slightly streamlined feel, or something else I can’t quite put my finger on – but a tiny, tantalising waft of 1960s high-life was definitely in the air.
Food: And…back to earth with a bump. As soon as the bowl was placed in front of me, I knew things weren’t going to end well. It wasn’t the rice, which was as rib-sticking as you’d expect. It was partly the tempura vegetables, which were too big (the broccoli element consisted of a single gob-defyingly enormous floret), and coated in a batter that was too thin to cling as it should. But the real problem was the sauce. Clearly the spawn of that insidious orange ‘sweet’n’sour’ gloop that had a walk-on role in wrecking the ’70s, this stuff looked like sump oil, tasted like verruca paint and reeked of industrial processes – the type that trash the planet. It was inedible and (unless they’ve got a laboratory back there instead of a kitchen) certainly not home made. My advice to them is: get a new supplier. Pronto. Until then, on this showing at least, I’m left with no alternative but to homage the wags of Tripadvisor: Yakii is yucky.
Vegan: Menu contains no dedicated vegetarian/vegan section, but careful reading should reveal acceptable options.
Food Hygiene Rating: 4 (Good)
Name: Alley Food and Mood (not sure how this choice of moniker is playing at Aqua Food and Mood).
Location: 27 Smithford Way, Coventry, CV1 1FY (Yes, I know it’s not Priory Place; I ran out of reviewable restaurants there. See below if you want details.)
What I ate: Stir fried sweet corn and pine nuts (£7.90) and egg fried rice ((3.50)
Welcome and service: Warm and friendly, although an awkward moment occurred when I asked for information about the hot pot. Given that hot pot is a type of broth, and other iterations listed on the menu included ‘lamb spine’ and ‘stewed beef belly’, the waitress’s solemn declaration that fried pumpkin with salted egg yolk hot pot was “a pudding” strained credibility somewhat.
Décor and ambiance: Cool. Marble table tops and dark, heavy seating jar a little, perhaps – but plain white walls, lots of light, a profusion of greenery (fake, but not in a naff way) and an otherwise minimalist approach to interior ornamentation tap into the relaxed, contemporary vibe that everyone’s chasing these days. Just as I’m wondering if it’s all a tad too generic, the water I requested is served in an enamel mug stamped with a portrait of Chairman Mao.
Food: I’m not going to speculate on reasons, but it’s unlikely that what I ate at Alley F&M was truly representative of their cuisine. Despite the presence of the letter ‘v’ in brackets next to a number of menu items, it was clear that meat-free diets were viewed as problematic. I ended up with a perfectly decent egg fried rice and a plate of ‘stir fried sweet corn and pine nuts’ that had gone extra-easy on the pine nuts and bore scant evidence of ever having been in contact with a wok at all. I’m not saying it was just a heated-up can of Green Giant Niblets With Green Pepper; but if you, dear reader, would take a moment to picture what such a thing would be like, you won’t be far away.
Vegan: See above. Not impossible, but expect to be anything but wowsered.
Food Hygiene rating: Awaiting assessement.
Not reviewed for this series:
Jinseon (Korean BBQ): Reviewed already.
Hana Moon (Japanese): Now seems to be exclusively a karaoke bar – which, let’s face it, is what it wanted to be all along. (Update December 2019: Hana Moon has apparently morphed into a second branch of Yi Pin. As the food I ate at original Yi Pin was easily the best of any of the restaurants reviewed for this series – that’s good news, I’d say.)
Han Dynasty (Sichuan): Doesn’t do vegetarian. However, if you eat meat, it could be worth a pop. It’s a small place with a bright minimalist interior (not one for lingering), a five (very good) rating for its food hygiene and an unusually limited menu – raising hopes that what they do do, they do well. Plus there’s a great smell wafting into the street.
Tipsy Baiju: Rarely seen it open.
Disclosure: I paid for the food I ate at Yakii and Alley Food and Mood from my own resources.