Of late, I’ve been making a bit of a concerted effort to explore more local places. As with anything, when it comes to food it’s easy to overlook what’s right on your doorstep, heading off to bright lights and big places that open to huge fanfares while the establishments five minutes down the road quietly get on with their thing.
I’m lucky that living in Rugby makes it easy to get to places like Birmingham and London in under an hour, with all their wonderful eateries and regular openings. But I’ve been inspired by a few bloggers who have made it their mission to shout about the places in their own area, even if that area doesn’t have the same cachet that some other locations might (I’m looking at you Sophie Etc and Nicole Navigates).
With that in mind, I’ve been tootling round our local area finally trying places that I’ve walked or driven past a thousand times but never quite made it in. Like SHIN in Coventry, which I’ve wandered past countless times on my way to BBC Coventry and Warwickshire and wondered what it’s like.
Since my visit to Tokyo earlier this year I’ve been moaning that I don’t have a Japanese restaurant on my doorstep but once I actually did a bit of research I’ve realised Coventry & Warwickshire has a plethora of places, from the World Food quarter in Coventry and Japanese restaurant Hanamoon just down the road, as well as Nana’s Japanese in Leamington Spa. I’m yet to try them all but have made a start and plan to carry on.
So, SHIN. I’m fairly sure it used to be called SHIN Ramen but now it’s just SHIN, with a menu full of Japanese classics from ramen to gyoza and karaage to katsu curry. We went on a week night and there were a fair few people there.
The interior has a casual, cafe feel, complete with impressively colourful decoration that’s great for a relaxed bite to eat, but if you’re looking for a swanky restaurant this probably isn’t the place for you. Service is equally casual, with it taking quite some time to get menus, then even longer to get drinks. Perhaps we had an off-night but I feel that perhaps it’s not somewhere where service is at the top of the list when it comes to priorities.
Other than sushi, Jamie hasn’t had a huge amount of Japanese food so he was keen to try, well, everything. We started with karaage – deep fried chicken – that was perfectly crispy on the outside whilst retaining moisture inside. An assortment of fried gyoza took me right back to an experience I had in Tokyo, but it was Takoyaki – octopus balls – that stole the show (they’re the ones on the right).
One of Japan’s best known street food snacks, these battered balls are stuffed with minced octopus and served smothered in takoyaki sauce (a bit like Japan’s version of Worcestershire sauce), mayo and bonito flakes (dried fish), which can keep you entertained for a good few minutes as they move in the heat, appearing alive. These were by far my favourite starter, though be aware they’re pretty filling.
In fact, it’s worth being mindful that SHIN’s portions are pretty generous, so you may not want to order quite as much as we did unless you’re feeling rather hungry.
For main, we had to have one of the ramens on the menu. They’ve got a whole selection, with the option to ‘pimp your ramen’ by changing noodle sizes and adding egg or pork belly. We opted for the standard Miso Chasyu Ramen – thick noodles in a miso broth, topped with roasted pork, a load of vegetables and egg.
If you haven’t had ramen before, you may think this all sounds a bit weird. But for those days when you want something that’s hearty, filling, warming and yet not stodgy or bloating, this is a great choice. The miso is packed with flavour, infusing the noodles and pork with its umami notes yet allowing their own flavour to sing too. If you like variety, you’ll love how much is packed into one bowl and I guarantee you won’t leave hungry.
Of course, being the Mannings, it wasn’t enough to stop there (we did share the ramen though, so that’s our excuse), and wanted to try SHIN’s katsu curry – another of my faves. Another big plate of food, the breadcrumbed katsu was served separately from the bowl of sauce, allowing you to taste both in their own right and ensuring it stayed crispy.
The katsu wasn’t the best I’ve had, somehow lacking in the sweetness and depth of flavour that I’ve enjoyed elsewhere, but it was another hearty plate of food that’s great for one of those nights when you’re looking for something that’s going to fill you up and give you something that little bit different.
It’s worth adding that SHIN has a pretty extensive sushi menu too, but since we were heading to Akasaka for our anniversary meal a few days later we stuck with the hot food, though I’ve read a few good reviews about SHIN’s sushi offering so might pop back to try it.
We left full (don’t we always) and agreed that SHIN is a good place for a casual bite to eat, especially if you’re after big portions and a chance to try some of the more common Japanese dishes. The service is a bit sketchy and I’m not sure the food is up there with the most authentic offerings of Japanese food when it comes to flavour and style, but it’s a crowd-pleasing version of this fabulous cuisine and a great way to introduce people who may otherwise not feel comfortable trying.
And me, next time I’m craving a good old ramen.
We paid in full at SHIN – they didn’t know I was a blogger.