[Disclosure: We paid in full at Gourmet Food Kitchen]
If you want to snag a place at Gourmet Food Kitchen – Coventry’s own, unique answer to fine dining – then you’d best book early. Only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with space for about 10 people each night, Tony Davies regularly sells out months in advance.
Maybe it’s the simplicity of the offering – a five-course tasting menu at a set price, cooked by him and served by him alongside wife Deb at the unit in FarGo Village that serves as kitchen and dining room all in one. Maybe it’s the fact you can take your own booze. Or maybe it’s just the fact it’s bloody good.
Whatever it is, it works. So much so that he’s considering opening on Wednesdays too for people who want to book for a group exclusively. A bonus for all of us who struggle to get booked in, but also for him. He tells me that if he’s open four days a week he could possibly be considered for inclusion in the AA guide. I’ll go as far to say that he already should be, purely for the quality of his food.
That’s not to say Tony hasn’t already received plenty of recognition for what he’s doing at GFK. Consistently ranked Coventry’s top restaurant on Trip Advisor (yes, I know that’s not the be-all-and-end-all but it’s a bit of a litmus test), the fact he’s fully booked up months in advance is testament to the quality of his offering.
We last visited in person in 2020 when I was wowed by the food, then again by one of his ‘at-home’ boxes (remember those) the following year. And in the sign of a great restaurant, a return trip in November 2022 proved that Tony’s cooking is as consistent as it is imaginative.
The menu is different. It changes every month. But it follows the same classic formula of soup, starter, fish course, palate cleanser, main, dessert and coffee and petit fours. All for £70 a head.
Butternut squash veloute is smooth and sweet but is far from one-dimensional thanks to a general poke of spice courtesy of the lovage oil it’s finished with. Its simplicity is the perfect opener as a group of strangers break the ice around the big family-style table, easing us in to what will soon feel like a dinner party – just with restaurant standard food.
The starter would be as at home in a swanky restaurant as it is in the humble setting of a brick-built unit in FarGo. A play on dippy eggs, but for grown-ups. Truffled duck egg, rich and delicate, with soldiers of Tony’s buttery, homemade brioche. My only regret is wasting some of the truffle-laced, custard-like egg as it spills over the side of the shell in my over-eagerness to dip.
Everything here is made from scratch – from smoked fish to ice cream and sorbet, and even Tony’s own black pudding and bacon that he serves up for weekend breakfast bookings.
A plate of smoked fish showcases the versatility when it comes to smoking and how smoked fish is never just smoked fish. Mackerel done over cherry wood with spiky pickled cucumber. Halibut with a traditional Swedish mustard dressing, reflecting Tony’s time at Öperakallaren in Sweden, and chalk stream trout with a proper horseradish. And by that I mean not the mustard-filled one that kicks you in the back of the nose, but the one that actually tastes like horseradish.
A white wine granita clears the way for what is the highlight of the meal. A dish where every single element makes you pause, as you slow down your eating to eek out the experience as long as possible.
A pork tenderloin that cuts like butter. A ‘bon bon’ of the pork trim minced, encasing a sphere of Tony’s own spiced black pudding, rich and fragrant with nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, somehow crunchy and crumbly all in one.
Sage and potato terrine is buttery, soft and meticulously put together. Savoy cabbage is so good the lady next to me and I agree we could probably just eat a bowl of it and call it a meal and the caramelised shot, rich jus and a light foam all add to the dish in flavour and aesthetic to make a plate of food that wouldn’t be out of place in a restaurant with an AA plate on the wall.
Dessert is chocolate marquis that is as soft and yielding in texture as it is rich in flavour. But it’s the mandarin sorbet that steals the show. Before I can even take a mouthful I’ve heard someone declare ‘ridiculous’ as they grin and dive in for a second spoonful, while someone else describes it as ‘pure flavour’. It is. A concentrated hit of mango, smooth and light, without a hint of ice or water.
We finish with coffee and petit fours – all made by Tony who is a rather excellent chocolatier on top of being a chef. There’s his own version of a Jammy Dodger, assembled at the pass as we all watch. Then a tiny canele in a tribute to the traditional French background that forms the bedrock of so many of the culinary skills we get to watch him showing off right there in front of us.
It’s easily as good as the last time we went. Solid, top-notch cooking that hits the spot, and does so in a unique setting. Given his popularity, Tony doesn’t even really need to be in a guide or win awards. He’ll be booked up anyway. But he should, because this is easily up there with some of the places that are. Quite frankly, Coventry is lucky to have him.