2019: a pivotal year in the evolution of Coventry’s food scene? Nah, not really. The city centre is still heavily dominated by chain restaurants, and with even more of the buggers massing on the horizon, you could say the forecast isn’t good. But here at Food Covolution, we get out in all weathers, and lately, we’ve felt a few straws in the wind. Harbingers of change? I think some of them might be. Read on to see if you’ve felt them too…
1. Coventry Market. Earthy, diverse and brimming with quality produce, our market is a superb asset – and there are signs that we are finally starting to recognise its potential. Ascribing this renewed interest to the presence of any one stall would be a mistake; rather, a sea-change in Coventry’s attitude to its market seems to be under way. From mid-2019, posts that mentioned it began attracting increased interest. This culminated in the enormous reaction, far exceeding anything I expected, that greeted the post about French café Le Petit Breton. Market managers have stated that 2020 will see them building on this momentum. In other towns and cities, rejuvenated retail markets have been the catalyst for foodie regeneration – why not here?
2. Plastic-free shopping. Coventry now has several plastic-free shops, including: Down to Earth Organic (Earlsdon), COGS (Coventry Market), Nuts About Nuts (Coventry Market) and Zero concessions at Green Unicorn Vegan Store (Fargo Village) and Turnips (Binley Woods) – plus special shout-out for ethical cookie monsters Wicked (Coventry Station). Obviously, these crucially-important businesses are in the vanguard of rethinking how we shop – but as a subsidiary function, they also create a platform for local food producers, raising awareness and connecting them with customers. This was particularly brought home to me when I interviewed Carly from Little Vegan Bakery, who described how, along with social media, Green Unicorn had been the springboard to getting her chocolates into shops around the country. Similarly, COGS has acted as a shop window for Coventry-made preserves, mustards, peanut butters and more.
3. Collaborations. Working together to showcase local products is also a way for bars and restaurants to develop a city’s distinctive food and drink identity. Leading the way on this have been breweries and tap houses, with Twisted Barrel, Beer Gonzo and Castle Yard Tap Room all showcasing local ales from the likes of Mashionistas Brewing Company, Triumph Brewery and Dhillon’s (the latter also available at Street Restaurant in Earlsdon and Alfred’s at the Herbert). At Bean&Leaf Coffee Shop meanwhile, you can enjoy a pastry from Proof Bakery with your morning coffee.
4. Supper Clubs. Coventry has seen some significant openings this year: step forward The Barn Kitchen, Dirty Kitch and Gloria and Lil’s Parkside Café. Additionally, the appointment of Chef Sarah Jenkins has been a foodie game-changer at Drapers Bar and Kitchen (ditto Chef Naldo Sheffield at the Rainbow Inn). But for much of the year, the real buzz has been around supper clubs. 2019 kicked off with a collaboration between Beer Gonzo and Chef Adam Bennett in a knock-out evening that brought Michelin-starred dining to Earlsdon for the first time. Since then, Gourmet Food Kitchen, Sophie’s Book Club, The Pod, Earlsdon Supper Club, and one-off event Tales from Coventry Tables have all contributed hugely popular, top-quality dining experiences and demonstrated that there IS an audience for great food in our city. (And let’s not forget that a different kind of dining club – Digbeth Dining Club – is now a regular at Fargo Village.)
5. Awards. Some noteable food and drink recognitions came Coventry’s way in 2019. Amongst the most eye catching were: Fargo favourite Leave it Esmie, listed in Britain’s top twenty-five Caribbean restaurants; a platinum (highest) award for city centre pizzeria Basement Browns; Dhillon’s Brewery, whose Alegre Ale topped the ‘best speciality steam beer’ category at the World Beer Awards 2019; genteel Coombe Abbey Hotel, named as one of the UK’s ‘thirty top places to enjoy afternoon tea’; and luxury Earlsdon Indian Royal Bengal, West Midlands Regional Winner at the Asian Restaurant and Takeaway Awards.
6. Looking Ahead. Already boasting two independent coffee shops (Bean&Leaf and Fratelli), Hertford Street will soon become home to the street food trucks currently trading on Market Way. Although not the most obvious candidate for foodie powerhouse status, Hertford Street is now part of a largely pedestrianised direct route from the city centre to the station – aspiring food businesses could see opportunities in that. Additionally, enigmatic Mystery Restaurant will be opening in the city next year and Michelin-starred Brummie kitchen-whizz Glynn Purnell will be at the Charterhouse by 2021 – both bringing as-yet-unknown regenerative potential. Elsewhere, the team behind Tales from Coventry Tables is planning a ‘Food Library’ event, Foleshill Road just might be getting a bit of foodie love and – major wowsers alert – keep an eye on Drapers Bar for a series of kitchen takeovers by chefs “whose names you might recognise”!
And so, dear readers – the moral of this tale: food in Coventry requires loads of improvement. But slowly-slowly, committed and visionary individuals are laying the foundations upon which this improvement can – and will – be built. Many more than those mentioned here are working hard to deliver it; I’m sorry there isn’t room to acknowledge them all. But rest assured: Food Covolution will be shouting – loud and proud – about every single one of them throughout 2020.