Talk about food and Coventry in the same sentence and you’ll often get laughed out of the room. It’s a similar view to the one that anywhere outside of London can’t serve decent coffee, or Birmingham is a concrete jungle devoid of class or culture. It’s outdated, narrow-minded and shows that someone really hasn’t scratched the surface of a place beyond its exterior.
Last year I vowed to explore more of what was right on my doorstep and while the lure of picturesque Warwickshire towns may still be strong, my doorstep includes Coventry and all its joys. The big hitters get a great reception – take the news that Glynn Purnell plans to open a restaurant in the heart of the city, the hugely popular Coventry Dining Club set slap bang in the cathedral ruins, or the arrival of endless new names offering food and drink at a level to rival plenty of other major towns and cities.
But what about the people who are quietly and consistently providing food that isn’t talked about enough, experiences that are being enjoyed every week by people ‘in the know’ yet ignored by those who don’t even know they’re there? I’ve written about the wonderful Selminas before – a fabulous independent restaurant that ticked all the boxes – and the list of places I need to try gets longer by the day. But finally, I managed to tick off one at the top of it – Gourmet Food Kitchen – and boy was it worth it.
As much as it pains me, I feel obliged to tell you that Gourmet Food Kitchen is rated number one of Coventry’s 443 restaurants, according to Trip Advisor. While we all know that good old TA has done a good job of weaponising review culture to the detriment of many a hospitality business, receiving such great feedback from customers to push you up to the top-rated place in a city is understandably a moment of pride and many a diner is still undoubtedly influenced in their choices by rankings like this, so we’ll at least acknowledge it.
GFK was set up by local chef Tony Davies who, as you would expect, comes with a CV as long as my arm including kitchens from Sweden to the Dorchester. He knows his stuff, and has decided to bring it to us in Coventry in the most simple of settings. I guess you could call Gourmet Food Kitchen a pop-up, maybe even a supper club.
Tucked in FarGo Village, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday Tony transforms a section of outdoor space into his very own fine dining restaurant. For the bargain price of £45 a head you get a seven-course set menu (which changes monthly so you can easily make it a regular thing), you take your own booze, and you spend a night eating great food in the most relaxed of settings.
Predictably, on the night we visited the good old British weather pulled a true blinder, but torrential rain and winds didn’t put Tony off and if you want to add “al fresco construction king”, “outdoor heating engineer” and “rooftop water remover” to his resume then I don’t think anybody from that night would argue.
Snuggled into a corner next to a well-positioned heater, wine poured, we start with an avocado vichysoisse. It’s delicate, creamy and seasoned just right to whet the appetite for what is to come.
Next, a ham hock terrine isn’t just a few bits of meat pressed together, but each step of its formation – talked through by Tony – is apparent in the taste, from the apple juice he uses that brings a hint of sweetness and that ever-popular pork and apple pairing to the cider vinegar used to tenderise the meat. Oh, and his homemade piccalilli will put you off eating the stuff out of the jar ever again .
The hot-smoked chalk stream trout croquette is something I’ve been dreaming about since we had it. Lightly cured and smoked over cherrywood, the level of smoke is just right. The crispy exterior gives way to a yielding centre where the trout is quite rightfully star of the show and only accentuated by the pool of chive and leek sauce it sits in. As Jamie points out, glass of wine in hand, this is food that shows time, care and attention, with the most simplest of elements still taking days to prepare.
A red wine granita was the palate cleanser, which pleased most of the guests that night to know there was an extra chance to sink some booze. Shiraz combined with grapefruit, orange and lemon juices provided the desired clean, refreshing and slightly bitter taste – though I’ll admit to being a bit sad as I felt the last remnants of that trout croquette get stripped away.
Main was the perfect meal for a cold night and proof that while he can execute fine dining up there with the best of them, Tony recognises that sometimes the simplest of flavours are the most pleasing. Cannon of beef served with potato gnocchi, ratatouille and a tapenade jus.
The beef was as tasty as it comes. Not as tender as I would have expected, but as a ribeye and sirloin steak lover, that didn’t prove a problem for me. The plate as a whole was hearty, packed with flavour, and elevated courtesy of the tapenade into a slight Mediterranean feel that may not have been able to stop the rain, but at least made us feel like it might be August somewhere, if not in Coventry that night.
If the effort that went into the croquette was impressive, the chocolate copper sphere pushed it right off the podium to take top spot in the looks terms. A carefully crafted sphere filled with rose water pannacotta and fresh berry compote, plus a healthy handful of fresh berries.
Of course, he could have made a whole sphere and poured a boiling vat of sickly sauce over the top and been like every other mainstream restaurant out for an Insta-story win, but like so many other elements of his restaurant, Tony is doing things his own way, and it’s for this reason that Gourmet Food Kitchen sells out every month, hence his addition of Thursday nights to the line-up.
We finish with homemade petit fours – a pink champagne jammy dodger and different chocolates for each table, each inspiring oohs and aahs from relaxed diners who, after an evening bonding over brilliant food (whilst socially-distanced obvs) and bad weather, are already all planning to come again – us included.
It goes without saying the food is great – I wouldn’t be writing about it if it wasn’t. At £45 a head it’s probably the best value good food I’ve had in years, but it’s not just that that makes Gourmet Food Kitchen a must-try experience. It’s the fact that Tony is brave enough to do things differently – to trust in the fact that even British weather and a pop-up style setting doesn’t detract in any way from what he’s doing but actually complements it. It’s something to be celebrated, and supported, so get yourself down there.
[We paid in full at Gourmet Food Kitchen]