We’ve all had that hotel restaurant dining experience. You know what I mean. Where the hotel restaurant is nothing more than a sorry afterthought, added just so the owners can put that tiny little box with a knife and fork on its listing on an accommodation comparison site. It’s drab, so is its food is worse, and if you express any dissatisfaction with your experience the staff are likely to look at you as if you’re bonkers for expecting any more. After all, you’re in a hotel restaurant, remember.
These are the kind of places that are desperately hoping they’ll never have to provide more than a greasy full English in the morning, and maybe scampi and chips at night, although if we’re honest they’d probably rather you just pissed off to the curry house down the road.
Since I’ve started writing this blog, I’ve been invited to a fair few places to try. I don’t go to all, but some pique my curiosity. That said, if I’d been invited to a hotel restaurant in the middle of Coventry six months ago, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But after my socks were pretty much knocked off by our experience at Marco’s New York Italian at the Holiday Inn in Birmingham, I’ve become aware of what seems to be a renewed attempt by hotels to up their dining game. Not just high end places, but your average hotel used by people for a quick night’s stopover for business or pleasure.
After all, why should we assume that the people frequenting these establishments are content to live off drabness any more than those who are lucky enough to go to their 5* competitors, or luxury boutique hotels?
So if an airport hotel in Brum can transport me far, far away throughout the course of a meal, surely other hotels can achieve the same given the approach to their restaurants. With this in mind, when I was asked if I’d try the new summer menu at the Queens Road Restaurant, Bar & Grill – the restaurant at the Ramada Hotel and Suites in Coventry – I thought I’d check it out. Would it be part of this brave new world of hotel dining, or yet another salute to the mundane.
The interior was certainly unlike your stereotypical hotel restaurant. Bright and welcoming without being over-the-top, it came across as being far more like an actual restaurant than a cheap afterthought desperately trying to pass itself off as somewhere that offers decent food.
And no, in case you’re thinking it, it wasn’t empty while we were there. There were at least five other tables tucking into dinner on a Thursday night and not all long-suffering businessmen and women with nowhere else to go, but a combination of what appeared to be colleagues, a young couple, and a gang of women out for a bite to eat. In short, people who had chosen to go and eat there rather than having it foisted on them through necessity, laziness, or a tight expenses limit.
The summer menu at Queens Road is what I guess I’d call modern British. A tempting mix of dishes from Herefordshire beef to Welsh lamb and Somerset pork. The mandatory steak’s in there (of course, since it’s a grill), along with other standard dishes like fish and chips, roast chicken, burgers and rack of ribs.
But there’s plenty more alongside the predictable classics. From smoked Barbary duck starter to veal steak and a rather interesting-sounding Welsh lamb ‘hanging skewer’ that gives a little hint that someone somewhere cares quite a lot about the food that’s being dished up at Queens Road and that this place certainly isn’t an afterthought for the purposes of ticking a TripAdvisor box.
To start, I opted for baby back ribs – apple smoked Somerset pork ribs with apple & cider chutney and celeriac slaw. Coated in a spicy dry rub rather than a rich, sticky sauce, it was certainly a bit of a variation on stereotypical ribs. The meat was tender, the chutney sweet and piquant and the slaw crunchy and not too mayonnaise-y.
Jamie went for tempura squid with lemon and caper mayo, ‘straw vegetable’ and watercress salad. Now, Mr M LOVES squid. It’s one of his faves. And this certainly looked impressive. In his expert opinion, Jamie would disagree on whether what this particular was coated in was actually tempura batter. It was nicely seasoned with a slight heat, but was much heavier than tempura. Consequently, it slightly overpowered the delicate squid inside.
The lemon and caper mayo was a nice addition and again, an imaginative twist on a classic tartare sauce. It was much chunkier too, with the capers adding an extra bit of crunch to the dish.
For main course, I went for the Welsh lamb pave with gratin potatoes, chorizo, asparagus, baby onion, with a red wine jus. I’m happy to say this was a good choice. It was a generous portion but also looked good on the plate.
Again, it seemed like someone had put a bit of thought into colours, textures, and flavours when they put this dish together. The lamb was nicely pink, the asparagus crunchy, and the potatoes – which came separately – tender and creamy. But the winner was the jus. So often a jus is a bit of meat juice poured over a dish rather than one that someone’s at least taken a few minutes to reduce to bring that lovely richness of flavour.
Mr M, again, broke his promise to experiment beyond steak. Apparently it had been a tough day and what was required was an 8oz ribeye of 21-day dry-aged Devonshire beef. He was offered a choice of one side dish and one sauce and opted for french fries and bearnaise sauce.
As usual, I’m faced with the dilemma of what exactly I’m supposed to say about this. It was simple but good. The meat was good quality, cooked exactly how he wanted it. The fries were good and the bearnaise was pretty decent, actually.
Greedy me had demanded an extra side dish of green beans and chorizo and despite having eaten a whole meal myself, managed to squeeze nearly the whole portion in. Crunchy beans with the added salty smokiness of the oil from the chorizo that had coated them while cooking, along with a few chunks of the sausage itself. Simple, but effective.
I’m not sure what possessed us to do what we did next. Maybe it was curiosity to see if the apparent passion for food had extended to the dessert menu. Maybe it was a chat with the chef and his infectious enthusiasm to make Queens Road a restaurant in its own right, not just a devoid-of-personality add-on to the hotel. Or maybe it was just greed. Whatever it was, we found ourselves ordering the salted caramel sundae – a gajillion calories worth of sticky toffee sponge, honeycomb, caramel ice cream, warm salted caramel sauce, and whipped cream.
The menu didn’t exactly prepare us for this. Yeah, so we knew it was going to be full of all sorts of naughty yumminess and yummy naughtiness, but we weren’t quite expecting this pimped up pudding to arrive. I’ve got to say, it was one of the most enjoyable desserts I’ve had in a while. Not just because it was a big badass jar of calories, but because it went a bit further than just a whopping great combo of cream, sugar, and ice-cream.
The stick toffee sponge was warm, moist and, well, sticky. The crunchy honeycomb was the opposite in texture, while the caramel ice cream balanced out the sweetness. The warm salted caramel sauce was indulgent, seeping down through the glass into every nook and cranny, while the cream piled high on top, giving the whole thing that wow factor. There’s something about ice-cream that brings out the child in all of us, and what do children love more than being presented with the biggest ice-cream sundae of ’em all?
Needless to say, we indulged in a fair bit of spoon wars as we battled each other for the bigger portion of our epic dessert. Thank god we were sharing, otherwise I think we would have easily polished off one each and promptly fallen into a sugar coma that we probably still wouldn’t have recovered from today.
One of the things that struck me about Marco’s Italian at the Holiday Inn was that by the time we left, I had forgotten exactly where we were. The same happened here. As we bounced out of the restaurant high on sugar, we suddenly remembered we’d just had dinner in the middle of the Ramada Hotel in Coventry yet somehow been transported far away from the stereotypical world of the heartless hotel restaurant.
No, it’s not fine dining or rosette-grabbing food, but a brief chat with the chef at Queens Road revealed something that’s as, if not more, impressive in my book – a desire to bring a bit of personality into the hotel’s restaurant. Hearing someone talk passionately about the thought behind menus, the drive for sustainability, an effort to source from local suppliers, and the desire to build up a customer base of more than just trapped, uninspired hotel guests is a heartening sign that the days of the soulless hotel restaurant could well be numbered, and here they’re long gone.
This place isn’t content to be an afterthought or a derisory nod to the knife and fork icon on a website and neither are the people behind it. From what I’ve seen they want to make Queens Road a restaurant in its own right, somewhere people come to for a meal whether they’re staying or not for one reason – because they want to. Bravo for that, I say.
We were invited to try the summer menu at Queens Road and enjoyed a complimentary meal. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review.