There are certain cuisines that have been lacking in Coventry for most of my 27 years here. You can find fantastic Indian food in pretty much any area of the city, and there are a few recommended Italians and very good Middle Eastern restaurants dotted around, but gastronomic diversity was never Coventry's strong point.
In recent years this has started to change. You could start with the pop-up vans that set up along Market Way in the centre of town. In my youth, these bottle green shacks were limited to a jacket potato van and doughnuts, with the pork and stuffing batch man occasionally showing up. Walk down there now, and you can get your hands on anything from bratwurst, to falafel, to noodles and more.
In this vein, more chain restaurants have started setting up. Where there was never Mexican, there is now a Chiquito, and where there was never Japanese, there is now Wagamama. We're getting there. More interesting to us however, is always the independents. This is where you hope to find authenticity and a real taste of a culture.
We found Hana Moon during our first tentative steps as food bloggers on Twitter. We exchanged some friendly tweets with them, and aimed to make a visit. They promised amazing sushi, authentic noodle dishes and the chance to try new things. I was particularly intrigued by the black sesame ice-cream, which they claim could become one's new favourite flavour.
We dropped in on them on a chilly evening last month. It was pretty bitter out, and walking across town I was looking forward to warming my bones with a hot bowl of ramen. Unfortunately, neither our initial greeting or the thermostat did much to warm me. We somehow felt that asking for a table was a slight inconvenience to the girl on the desk, and the restaurant was so cool that my feet were still icy upon leaving.
To begin with, despite the emptiness of the restaurant, we were not perturbed by any chill or lack of atmosphere, and were just excited to get eating. We were seated in a booth, and our waitress came over to give us the menus and order some drinks. She was very friendly and attentive, and offered us help in both choosing our dishes and using our chopsticks. We needed neither, but we appreciated the gesture.
We opted for a range of dishes to share, starting with the Hana gyoza and beef katsu. The gyoza were delicious; beautifully browned, flavourful and moreish. In fact, we sort of wished we'd ordered two, because unfortunately the beef katsu was a bit bland, even with dipping sauce. I think that was an error of choice on our part as steak lovers, however, because a ribeye is always more enjoyable pan fried, seasoned and still pink. You lose that when you beat it in to an escalope and deep fry it.
As the sushi is such a hot topic on their social media pages, we opted for the Hana Platter, which was 14 pieces of sushi selected by the chef. Now, we've had your basic, boring "English friendly" sushi selection, and we've eaten high-end, traditional, straight-out-of-the-sea grade sushi in Hong Kong. This was somewhere in between. The presentation was lovely, and there was a great selection of seafood nigiri, including octopus, squid, and what I think was eel. I would say that it was a bit rice-heavy for my taste, but again, we could have opted for some sashimi to avoid that. It was good, but nothing to write home about.
After the sushi, the wheels sort of fell off a bit service-wise. The restaurant had started filling up (though it wasn't busy, per se), and for one particular group in the centre of the room, nothing seemed to be going right. I'm not sure if this was due to kitchen errors or initial order errors, but as our waitress was the one facing the unhappy customers, I started to feel quite bad for her. It also affected the speed and quality of our service.
We eventually received our Tonkotsu ramen, plus another bowl free. I have no idea why - presumably another kitchen error and they didn't want to waste it. This was actually fortuitous, because the roasted pork in the dish, though tasty, was very scant. The soup was flavourful and comforting, but I doubt it is the best ramen we'll ever eat.
I have to be honest in these reviews, because otherwise what's the point? Ultimately, our experience was disappointing. Our waitress tried her best, and the food was fine, but the place was lacking in atmosphere, and was very disorganised. The icing on the cake was that I ordered the famous, mind-blowing black sesame ice-cream, to be told 10 minutes later that they were all out. Finally, their card machine wouldn't work, so Mark had to leave the restaurant to get cash.
I can't really recommend Hana Moon hand on heart, but I can see potential for the restaurant as a reasonably-priced place to go with a group and to try something new, if they could only improve their service.
Hana Moon, 4 Hale Street, Coventry
N.B. We booked and paid for our meal at Hana Moon ourselves, and all opinions are our own.