Food in Cov: reasons to be (mostly) cheerful

Happy New Year! And as we usher in 2018 in Coventry, we have more reasons than most to be full of cheer. The city has had a fantastic year. After being crowned UK City of Culture 2021, there is now a real buzz about the place, and every reason to look forwards. But does that warm fuzzy feeling also extend to food? Er well…you could be forgiven for thinking that things in that particular department are still looking decidedly lukewarm.

But – here at Food Covolution, we are determined to embrace the zeitgeist and end the year on an optimistic note. And it’s true: from being the city where foodie hopes went to die, there are now – like the sparsest sprinkling of micro-herbs atop that tired turkey sandwich – faint signs that Coventry is finally starting to look just a soupçon more appetising. So, in the spirit of the season, here are five (mostly) positive Cov-specific trends to watch out for in 2018.

1. Veganism Along with Fargo Village’s regular vegan festivals, the concentration of wholly-vegan and vegan-friendly businesses that continue to spring up along the Far Gosford Street/Fargo Village corridor is finally putting Coventry on the map as a foodie destination. So numerous and varied are these businesses that it’s fair to say that in this fast-expanding niche, Cov is ahead even of that traditional bolt-hole of despairing local food-lovers, Leamington. Add to that the knowledge and enthusiasm of business owners, and you’ve got somewhere that vegans from all over the Midlands and even further afield are not just sitting up and noticing, but are actually putting on their list of must-visit destinations. Veganuary (January) will herald a number of special events and initiatives in celebration of veganism, so watch this space for further details.

2. Street Food Is Coventry ready for fine dining? Given that the usual cheffy reaction to our fair city is to take one look then leg it back Leamington pronto, consensus on this one seems to be a big N-O. And fair enough – maybe feyn deyning isn’t really very Cov. But there are alternatives that could still deliver a better food offer at prices that won’t make you choke on your chips.

Fuelled by our love of festivals and outdoor events, street food has become one of the UK’s top food trends of recent years – and why not? Mobile trucks and stalls are a smart way to sidestep sky-high rents, target specific audiences and put out food that’s interesting, flavour-packed and affordable. Fargo Village hosts regular, and very popular, street food events – and also boasts the wonderful Leave It To Esmie, a restaurant that grew out of a street food business and is now one of the best around.

Esmie’s serves terrific food at reasonable prices in an unfussy (but still comfortable and welcoming) environment; its well-deserved success shows there is an appetite for good independent food in Coventry and its model points in a direction that others could follow.

3. Pop-ups/takeovers/dining clubs Different approach: if Cov isn’t ready for full-time fine dining, might it be ready for an occasional one-off? The fabulous Lucia’s in Earlsdon has led the way here with its authentic weekend Italian nights; but my ear-to-the-ground is hearing there’s a distinct possibility we’ll be seeing more pop-ups…ahem…popping up around Coventry in 2018 – so, again, watch this space!

4. Skills schools Another development to look out for. Food Covolution is led to believe there are plans to get restaurant-led community cookery and bakery classes off the ground in the city next year. Together with pop-ups, these could provide great places for local food enthusiasts to get together and swap ideas.

5. More chains OK: chains are a fact of life – they have their place and they’re not going away; I eat in them myself sometimes. The Botanist and Bistrot Pierre are already confirmed for Cathedral Lanes (The Botanist not opening until February 2019), and with the City of Culture win acting as a major stimulant, it’s a cert that many more chains will be gagging for a piece of the action.

Chains can co-exist with independents in a mixed food economy; the problem is that Cov city centre doesn’t have a mixed food economy. It has a food economy that is increasingly polarised. With just a few heroic exceptions (some of which have already been featured by Food Covolution), the only alternatives to chain restaurant clones tend to be cheap-but-not-always-cheerful opportunists, in business to chase the student dollar and not much else.

Without the balancing effect of grown-up independents, the arrival of yet more chains risks making the city centre less, rather than more, attractive. Unlike the vegan businesses on Far Gosford Street, chains actively discourage food tourism (yes, that’s a thing) – why would you come here to eat in a chain when you could eat in exactly the same chain at home?

And this whole conundrum is multiplied times approximately one zillion by City of Culture. Will discerning visitors be happy to discover that the unique cultural experiences on offer during 2021 fizzle out like flat prosecco when it comes to unique dining experiences? What Coventry should be delivering in 2021 is apackage that is memorable in every way. There’s nothing memorable about eating somewhere that’s identical in every detail to a place where you’ve eaten already – and that’s why there’s never been a better time to support the city’s independents. They’re doing a brilliant job, and we need them more than ever in 2018!

This review was written by Food Covolution, you can read more here.

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