[Disclosure: I was invited for a complimentary meal to try the new menu at Cosy Club in Coventry.]
Chains often get a bad rap don’t they? Soulless, identikit venues, lacking in passion and imagination yet blessed with investment, manpower and the security that comes with being part of an easily-recognisable brand that wins people over because they ‘know what they’re going to get’.
That comfort is why people will choose Carluccio’s over the lesser-known local Italian, just in case it disappoints, or keep on heading to those big-name burger chains who can afford to charge a couple of quid less for a double cheeseburger, rather than their local venue, despite the time, effort and love they put into what they make.
It feels unfair, which is why so many people – myself included – root for the little guy rather than the big chains. But like anything, perhaps it’s equally unfair to tar everyone with the same brush. Chains might have readymade advantages over indies, but does that mean they’re all automatically devoid of quality and passion?
While I will always root for the Davids of the food world vs the Goliaths, there are a few groups that seem to bridge the gap and bridge it pretty well. Or, at least, I’ve been lucky enough to go to establishments belonging to these groups that have landed themselves with a manager and a team who care as much as any independent about what they do, resulting in a pretty good experience for a customer and one that can hold its own against much smaller, independently-run venues.
Which takes us to Cosy Club in Coventry. I’ll admit to being sceptical, given you can find a Cosy Club in most major cities these days. But given they had recently relaunched their menu and I’d seen positive reports, I thought I’d give it a go. And I’ll confess to being rather pleasantly surprised.
The feel is industrial crossed with cosy living room. It’s not that dissimilar to the ‘Loungers’ venues, of which there’s one in Rugby (Bacco Lounge for any of you locals), and the reason for that becomes clear when the manager tells me that they are, indeed, all part of the same family, with Cosy Club aimed at being just that little step up from its simpler siblings.
That remains to be seen, but one thing I’ve always thought Bacco Lounge and its fellow venues did well is the ability to exude the aura of an independent despite being part of a bigger group. So much so that Jamie and I recently nearly ended up in the Tewkesbury venue thinking it was a little independent. Job well done, hey?
On my visit to Cosy Club in Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes shopping centre, I’m lucky enough to be served by the manager whose experience shines in a world where as customers we’re currently often left feeling the effects of a shortage in experienced staff. He’s calm, passionate and knows the menu inside out – a breath of fresh air in the post-COVID world of service.
Under his attentive guidance, I’m led to a bright, airy corner of Cosy Club and left to study the rather extensive menu. As well as the new small plates option, there’s brunch, burgers and sandwiches and main courses to choose from. The influences are from all over the world, especially reflected in the small plate menu.
Mocktail in hand, I order myself a small selection and settle in for a feast. First up is chicken, chorizo and butterbean stew. Not on my initial list but I’m assured by the manager that it’s a ‘must order’. He’s not far wrong. Something that could easily be insipid and uninspired, it’s everything a rustic classic like this should be. Deep in colour, deeper in flavour, with a nice smoky heat from the chorizo and hunk of bread to unashamedly splash into the bowl of warmth.
Bang bang cauliflower is a spicy pile of crunchy cauliflower florets coated in sweet chilli. While enjoyable, I think it’s the ginger and sesame greens alongside that steal the show, drenched in an umami-heavy tamari (the Japanese version of soy sauce) and showered in sesame seeds for a bit of extra bite.
Harissa lamb shoulder is, as my pal would say, a ‘little bit of me’. Tender meat, moist, rich and tasty with a muted zing of harissa, crunchy chickpeas, slightly sweet cauliflower puree and a creamy tzatziki. Summer comfort food at its best, with soft flatbread to shovel it in with while you leave your ladylike affectations at the door.
The only disappointment is Asian fried chicken. I was thinking traditional Korean fried chicken, fresh and crispy on the outside with all the promised flavours of soy, chilli and ginger transporting me out of Coventry and far, far away. Instead, the chicken goujons are much more pedestrian. They may be a safe bet for an audience who don’t want their tastebuds to go on too much of an adventure, but are underwhelming compared to other dishes on the menu.
The pickled slaw they come with, while crunchy, light and fresh, is the same slaw that popped up alongside the bang bang cauliflower and also with the lamb. This regular appearance somehow relegates it from a well thought-out accompaniment to a standard garnish popped on everything. A shame given a slaw like this, done well, seems to me to merit as much love and attention and its own moment in the sun as the other elements on the plate.
If my last small plate is a bit of an anti-climax, that criticism most definitely can’t be levelled at the dessert that I’m coaxed into ordering. I plan to eat just a few mouthfuls of the lemon posset but it’s not to be, since this most simple of desserts is really rather brilliant.
From the perfect balance of creamy, sweet and citrus in the posset to a well-judged coulis that is tart without inspiring that great-auntie-Betty-lemon-sucking-impersonation, I can’t find fault with it. White chocolate shavings and fresh raspberries add the aesthetic without distracting from the mainstay of the dish, while a shortbread biscuit is light, buttery and annoyingly moreish.
They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the fact this glass is left empty says it all. A brilliant ending to an enjoyable lunch. I leave Cosy Club in exactly the way you should leave any good venue – independent or otherwise. Feeling full, relaxed and rather happy.
Big groups can often miss the mark, and like anything in life, it’s never quite as simple as saying they’re always good or always bad. But on my visit, Cosy Club Coventry was everything a reasonably-priced, well done casual dining venue should offer. And really, that’s all that matters.