A few months ago while up in Birmingham, I indulged with a visit to one of the best independent wine merchants in the UK, Connollys Wine, main branch located next to Snow Hill train station, their other in Solihull. It’s official this is a wine lovers paradise and staffed by some of the nicest and most knowledgeable people that I’ve had the pleasure to meet on my food and wine travels. In addition to being a treasure trove of Burgundian gems at affordable prices , they stock an eclectic, exciting selection of wines from around the globe.
They also have their finger on the pulse of Brum’s booming restaurant scene, so it seemed rude not to ask what they thought was the current hot ticket!
Without hesitation they said Two Cats Kitchen! Pressing them a little further it appeared that their recommendation was supported by a glowing Tripadvsior recommendation and since my visit a fairly decent review by the Guardian. I enquired as to what style of cuisine was on the menu and the answer came back “New Baltic”. This brought back memories of culinary nightmares from my first visit to St.Petersburg many years ago! Unperturbed by this and with a large degree of curiosity I went ahead and made a reservation.
Before I’d even phoned to make a reservation I was impressed that Connollys were supplying and advising them on wines, I knew instinctively that we were in for a real treat.
Locating this oasis of truly unusual and exciting cuisine is in itself an adventure, with the taxi dropping us off near the old police station in the Jewellery Quarter and then us looking out for the clues supplied by the restaurant to lead us to the “Two Cats”!.
The restaurant is located at the end of a passageway through an inconspicuous door that lends it a Narniaesque air. Once inside the minimalist decor yields a cosy dining atmosphere with part of the prep station inside the restaurant so that dinners can see the theatre of the Latvian breads being finished before service.
The menu offers arguably stunning value at £42 for a seven course tasting menu. A modest increase on when I dined there towards the end of last year.
Auksta Zupa – A beetroot and buttermilk gazpacho style soup with parsley, dill , cucumber, radish, and egg whites. Wow! What an opener! This is like the late great David Bowie opening a gig with Heroes! When you get this kind of artistic beauty cleaved with culinary heaven you just know that you’re in for a treat. Of course visual desire is only the first step in serving great food bit this tasted as good as it looked. The aromatics of the herbs lifting the beetroot to new heights.
Raw Beef Noisette, Smoked Duck, Croutons, Pickled Turnip, Fermented Apple, Hazelnuts and Coal Oil.
This was another triumph and my first exposure to the hint of coal oil and use of oyster leaves in a salad. Like the Ronseal adds of the 80s, oyster leaves are a leaf that do exactly as they say and taste of those divine shellfish! That classic sublime and historic combo of beef and oysters is given a make over in this dish. Again wonderful presentation and an usual combination of flavours that really show off the tartare!
Goat Cheese Pelmeni with Lovage Oil and Sweet Onion Broth.
This was a real comfort food dish. The tang of the goat’s cheese balanced out with sweetness of the broth and again lifted both visually and taste wise by the neat hit of Lovage!
We were by now at the mid way point. Another first for me with a fish course of Arctic Char.
Arctic Char, Egg Yolk, Samphire, Shitake Mushrooms and Lumpish Roe
The presentation theme continued with a skilful use of ingredients with the Shitake complementing the strong flavour of the salmon like Char.
Duck, Squash, Pickled Quince, Blackberries and Marinated Artichoke Heart
Served three ways, as a sorbet, curd and a granola. Best enjoyed rolled up like a fat cigar and eaten with a finger. A brilliant citrusy alternative to the classic palette cleansing lemon sorbet!
Honey Cake, poppy, Meadowsweet. Fennel, Pollen, Strawberries and Milk Ice Cream.
Finishing off with this unusual fusion of cake, ice cream and fruit the dish is elevated to another dimension by the aromatics of the fennel pollen. Again visually stunning and the perfect end to my virgin “New Baltic” experience.
Talking to the head chef, Nick Astley it’s fantastic to see his passion and enthusiasm for this style of cuisine. Starting from small beginnings as a pop-up and then finding his feet and a permanent home in the Jewellery Quarter. I love the fact that when they opened they were on such a tight budget that they were using old airline cutlery because they didn’t want to compromise on the quality of ingredients.
This attitude and determination puts Nick and the Two Cats Kitchen in my food heroes category. Firstly for focusing on the important things like ingredients and provenance. So many new start ups go over budget on the decor and kitchen spend and then end up cutting corners on the food. Nick has priorities set firmly in the right order.
Secondly, for daring to do something different. In the same way that I encourage friends and followers of this Blog to always try a new wine or grape variety, there’s a great pleasure in trying one of the hundreds of diverse cuisines that we have across our planet. It takes however a chef with some gumption and focus to deliver on that. Long may this continue.
Also a brief note on the wines. As I said earlier supplied by Connollys and a relatively limited but affordable list with more than enough to match all of the courses. I really loved the Austrian Zweigelt. Which worked really well especially with the duck.
Don’t forget if you want to dine on a Friday or Saturday you’ll definitely need a reservation.