Food review: Coal Bar and Grill, Telford
There are plenty of eating options to feast your eyes and tummies on in Telford. Andy Richardson checks out one chain in the running. . .
High street restaurant chains are in meltdown. Not a month passes without reports of falling profits, rationalisations or branch closures. Across the UK, there’s a glut in the market as multiples compete for an ever-declining purse.
Chains compete by offering ever more attractive dining deals. Customers are enticed through the doors by promises of succulent steaks, great value burgers and pizzas just the way mamma used to make ‘em.
But while chains seem to be struggling in other parts of the UK, in Telford it’s all about feast rather than famine. The town’s Southwater complex offers more restaurants in one small space than most towns do across an entire High Street.
From the Liquor Lab and Nandos through Bella Italia, Zizzi, Harvester, Chimichanga, Pizza Express and Loungers to Wildwood Kitchen and more; Southwater offers food from around the world that’s perfectly packaged, competitively priced and offers casual dining options for locals.
Don’t expect to be wowed by amazing provenance at most of those outlets. Eating seasonal and local food is far removed from the menus as head offices work out how to improve their margins by offering convenience and comfort. Southwater offers food for the masses and, when done correctly, there’s nothing wrong with that.
My friend and I met for a midweek supper and decided to eat at the Coal Bar and Grill. The chain has outlets across the UK; from Basingstoke, Bristol and Exeter to Milton Keynes, Sheffield and Swindon. The USP is simplicity. Diners are invited to enjoy fresh ingredients and big flavours with chefs who work tirelessly to combine quality cuts of meat, fresh produce and bold flavours.
Coal promises the best freshly made pizza, grills and pasta with a vegetarian and vegan menu that cater to those who enjoy modern classics but, quite literally, don’t want to pig out.
My friend and I waited for the restaurant manager when we entered and were then offered a choice of tables. The venue was a third full, not bad for a Tuesday evening, with other guests enjoying cocktails during the recent hot spell.
The staff offered menus, took orders, got our drinks order wrong but quickly corrected that mistake, then let us sit back and relax.
Let’s cut to the chase. If you’re looking for the best burger in Shropshire, Coal isn’t the place to go. There are small independents with exceptional sourcing policies that offer better beef. The same is true of pizzas. If you want something really good, get to Shrewsbury and eat at Dough and Oil or drive to Ludlow for Pizza Ten. And if you want something really meaty, head to Shrewsbury’s Istanbul to eat on authentic Turkish dishes.
But if you’re looking for somewhere that offers ease, comfort, no frills, no fuss and decent value for money, then Coal will tick your box. It’s unpretentious with friendly, hard-working staff who were busy and efficient when we visited. They might have been more engaged and a little less flustered at times, but generally they did a good job.
My friend started with a platter of chicken wings that were coated in a sweet, sticky marinade while I opted for a plate of calamari.
Both dishes were decent: nothing to write home about, but nothing unpleasant. The wings were tender and moist, the squid still soft and coated in a crunchy batter, which may have been a little too oily. It was nice food – oh dear, ‘nice’ is a word that damns with faint praise – that was unremarkable and did not offend. It didn’t excite but nor did it grate. It was fine, pleasant, average, okay. You get the picture.
Our mains could have been described in a similar way. I ate a chicken chimichanga, a plate of protein and starchy carbs that made for appetising eating but did little to improve my waistline.
Voluminous piles of rice were plated beneath a large oven baked tortilla that was stuffed with grilled chicken, Cheddar cheese and salsa. Soured cream was poured over along with a few neatly chopped peppers. The flavours were okay-ish, nothing wild and exciting. It was like the jacket potato at a bonfire party, rather than the explosive pyrotechnics. Solid, worthy and decent; it hit the spot but had been wiped from my memory before I’d reached the car park.
My pal’s burger was just as mediocre, though the fries were decent.
A Frenchie burger featured a moist 6oz beef patty with melted brie, caramelised red onions, tomato, relish and lettuce.
Though he has the appetite of a man mountain – he’s been known to eat a horse between two mattresses for breakfast – he baulked before the end, defeated by the meat. The fries were the highlight of our evening. Crisp, golden and over-fried so that they crunched like car wheels on a gravel road, they were delish.
We skipped desserts. The calorific selection didn’t scream ‘eat me’ and we’d both developed food babies from our starters and mains. The staff made regular visits to our table to make sure everything was fine and did a pretty good job.
And it’s the staff who earned Coal an extra mark than it might reasonably expect to gain for though they were a little scattershot at times, they worked damned hard. They were neither the most gifted nor the most experienced crew – but they put in a shift, did their best and you can’t really ask for more than that.
Coal isn’t ever going to win awards for being the best in town – though it might win an honourary gong for Best In Southwater, at a push – but then that really isn’t the point. While others aspire to dazzle and wow, Coal exists to feed. It’s a great, social stop-off point for couples, for families and for workers who can’t be bothered to cook.
The staff do their best, the menu features stone-dead classics and the prices are reasonable. So while other, over-priced restaurants around the UK might be feeling the pinch, Coal is doing just fine.