[Disclosure: We paid in full at Purnell’s Cafe & Bistro – they didn’t know I was a blogger]
Let’s get this bit out of the way first. Just because a celebrity chef lends their name and their involvement to an establishment, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to be cooking your lunch or dinner.
Sometimes they might be, of course, and it all depends on the chef, the set up, and the number and style of venues. But if you think about it, a chef who has several restaurants scattered around a fairly wide geographic area and all serve lunch and dinner nearly all week, and who maybe is writing a book, doing some TV appearances, and might also want a life, is going to be hard pushed to be in every kitchen, lovingly tending to your food, when you visit.
So while it’s wonderful that Glynn Purnell has come over to Coventry and put his name to the long-awaited restaurant at the recently renovated Charterhouse, he’s most likely not going to be cooking your meal when you go.
But that is absolutely no reason not to go. Because if he was, the chances are you’d be at his first-born, the Michelin-starred Purnells in Birmingham city centre, and you’d have the bill to match.
Instead, in a beautiful setting in one of Coventry’s most historic building, you can get an array of tapas and nibbles, at lunch or dinner time, plus a few drinks, and pay a fraction of the price. Will it be Michelin standards? Of course not. But it’s an entirely different offering, and that’s worth remembering.
Some of us have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Purnell’s Cafe & Bistro and a few months ago it finally came. The big man was there on launch night, of course, but by the time I get there – the usual few weeks late – it’s a team of staff that are left to run the place. They’re friendly and warm, and we’re soon ensconced in a corner in the glass conservatory that looks out on to the grounds of charterhouse and an outdoor space that I’m convinced will be great for a nice lunch in summer.
The bistro menu is basically tapas, divided into meat, fish and vegetables, as well as ‘finger food’ which is basically more tapas. Between four of us we order virtually everything – because why wouldn’t you?
It’s a mixed bag. Aubergine chips are a highlight, crispy outers giving way to a soft yielding inside, and a truffle and honey dressing working well. I’m a fan of the grilled baby leeks with romesco sauce, dusted in parmesan shavings, while cheese and leek croquettes are great texture wise, but perhaps lacking in seasoning.
Crispy squid is as moreish as deep fried quid always is and the smoked anchovies, while not the best quality I’ve ever had, aren’t the worst either. I don’t get involved in the selection of cheese with quince jelly but I’m told they’re pretty good.
Toasted ciabatta with tomato and garlic sauce is fine, but nothing to write home about, and the same goes for the olives and artichoke hearts. I’m most excited about the meat dishes, which perhaps explains why they’re the biggest letdown.
Chicken wings prove that fried chicken should be left to the experts, and a big slab of pork belly is cooked pretty well, but the promised sherry and fennel glaze isn’t a glaze, but some kind of creamy sauce that just doesn’t work. It’s too insipid, again under-seasoned and the fatty meat needs something more robust, more punchy, to really make it sing.
Desserts are pretty and delicate – a step-up from the hunks of cake you imagine might be served up here in the daytime. A chocolate and orange number is the winner for me – right balance of citrus and sweet, with a touch of bitterness from the chocolate.
They’re a decent finale to what’s been a fun evening, and proof that there is attention to detail here, albeit not quite to the levels you might ordinarily associate with Mr Purnell himself.
I’d love to wax lyrical about the food at Purnell’s Cafe and Bistro – to say that Coventry has an obvious alternative to schlepping into Birmingham to get your hands on the Yummy Brummie’s food. I can’t, yet.
But that is not the same as saying Charterhouse isn’t worth a visit. Without the fanfare of a celebrity chef’s name hanging over it, the bistro here would be praised as a welcome addition to the city’s food scene. It’s in a gorgeous location, packed with history and the back story of a revived piece of Coventry’s culture.
The food is pretty good – there’s room for improvement, but it has the makings of a lovely little spot for a bite to eat and a few drinks. It’s also more accessible – in terms of money as well as atmosphere and food – than other places that bear Purnell’s name.
Could it be better? Yes. Will it get there? Yes. Would Coventry be better if it hadn’t opened? Absolutely not. Which is why it’s worth checking it out and bearing with them while they smooth the rough edges and tweak things so it lives up to its namesake. Which I have no doubt they will.