Knife And Fork: Two Cats Kitchen

I had dinner at Two Cats Kitchen a few weeks ago when it had just recently opened. Allowing for the inevitable teething troubles which any restaurant will experience in the early days, this meal definitely augured well for the future. If Two Cats lives up to its early promise, it will definitely be one to watch.

We were met by Nick Astley the Chef/Patron and his partner Diana who seems to have been the inspiration for the cooking and indeed the establishment of the restaurant. She is Latvian and apparently it was visiting Latvia and falling in love with the cooking as well as the people, which led to the idea for Two Cats.

The cuisine is Latvian-Modern, so to speak: contemporary takes on traditional dishes. This “New Baltic”, as the restaurant prefers to call it, perhaps mirrors the continuing trend for New Nordic, which certainly made foodies around the world completely rethink their ideas on Extreme-North-European-Meat-and-Two-Veg cooking. For most of us, I imagine that none of the Baltic States would come to mind when we think of delicate, subtle cooking; rather more we expect robust fare without a lot of finesse. So, it was rather exciting to be presented with this subtle, flavoursome, delightful food which makes good and creative use of the smoking, curing and pickling traditions of that part of the world.

The dishes are all relatively small, larger than tapas but not as large as conventional courses, so it is possible, desirable actually, to try several of those on offer and really sample the menu. There is also a complete tasting menu available for when you want the full culinary experience. Each month the menu varies with the addition of some and deletion of others.

We started with the Auksta Zuppa (Old Soup) and Goat Cheese Pelmeni. The Cold Beetroot and Buttermilk Soup – for that is what it was in essence – was a sweet, yet sharp confection, complex, subtle, tantalising, as I tried to identify the various constituent flavours: dill, cucumber, and radish. My companion’s Goat Cheese Pelmeni was equally interesting, the cheese itself strong and slightly pungent as you would expect, the lovage oil and flowers very delicate, the onion soup sweet and smooth; a really interesting set of contrasts and complements. The Pelmeni was perhaps too large in my friend’s opinion, although I begged to differ. I think this is simply a personal matter and no reflection on the food itself.

I then had the Raw Rose Veal with smoked duck, croutons, pickled kohlrabi, fermented apple and coal oil. Not everyone is a fan of minced raw meat but, if you like sushi and sashimi, why wouldn’t you care for raw meat – as long as it is good meat to begin with, well prepared and presented? This passed all the tests. It was delicate, the veal more or less melting in the mouth, full of flavour and delicacy. The accompaniments just went very well. Looking at text on the page does not do justice to the food as experienced. Rose Veal is, of course, the result of humane, more acceptable free ranging farming practice which does not involve shutting the young animals up in tight pens and results in this pink rather than white meat. There was a time when I could not have countenanced eating veal. Today I feel differently about it: utterly delicious when done well, as here.

The Squab Pigeon with toasted seeds, scorched broccoli, meadow sweet, red currants, and smoked sour cream had my companion in an ecstasy. This is young pigeon specially bred in France and delivered to select restaurants in Britain, not the cooked compacted elastic band that you often find. I couldn’t resist a mouthful or two myself and I understood why it was being so well appreciated. It was tender, moist, full of gamey flavour, and perfectly complemented by the accompaniments.

As these are relatively small portions, I opted to try the mackerel with gooseberry, fennel, sabayon, and almond and fennel sand. This was seriously tasty, a slightly surprising mixture of flavours and textures, but it certainly worked. Being such a strongly flavoured, oily fish, mackerel can be hard to get right in a restaurant as opposed to at home but I can say that, with the exception of a freshly caught mackerel I cooked just hours after plucking it out of the sea a couple of weeks ago, this was one of the best mackerel I have tasted.

And so to dessert. We decided to share the Almond Butter, granola, cucumber, elderflower jelly and meringue. I thought it was bitter, sweet, complex, with wonderfully mixed textures. My companion was a bit less impressed, feeling that the elderflower jelly was less successful. I loved the tiny sections of meringue which sort of teased my palate by their taste and texture.

To drink with this meal we had a bottle of Suri, a Barbera by Andrea Faccio, which was robust and full of flavour yet with deep-lying subtlety. All the wines on the short but excellent list are supplied by Connolly’s Wine Merchants in Livery Street. It’s good to see a local business working with others in the area to create good experiences.

And a Good Experience it was. A fellow diner that evening was the chef from a very highly rated Birmingham restaurant and I noticed that when he left he was very complimentary to Nick.

This venue has hosted several restaurant ventures since the days when it was one of the Michelle mini chain and perhaps only one has been really successful in terms of cuisine and reputation – the Toque d’Or. I rather think that Two Cats might be ready to fill that spot. You should go soon.

Cost for two diners, six dishes, and wine: £70 plus tip.

Two Cats Kitchen, 27 Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter B18 6JQ

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman


Neighbourhood Watch : Jewellery Quarter

Still the largest jewellery quarter in Europe where 40% of the UK’s jewellery is made, the area is one of the city’s proud heritage neighbourhoods. Situated just a few minutes’ walk from the city centre, in fact you can pick up the pavement trail down Newhall Street from the Great Charles Queensway (take a look at Milan’s on route, still serving an Indian lunch buffet for £4.95!), the JQ is awash with restaurants and cafes among the traditional and modern jewellers.

Starting right at the edge with St. Paul's, Birmingham's last Georgian square, there's the Jam House and just around the corner, the Actress & Bishop for your live music mix. The JQ residents are lucky to have a choice of restaurants including the long-standing Pasta Di Piazza  and Henry’s Cantonese.also the award winning Lasan or you can enjoy the private booths of the Vaults. Further into the heart of the quarter, Big Nanny’s give you a warm Caribbean welcome and the Blue Nile is worth eating at just for the stunning Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

There are a couple of traditional watering holes in St Paul’s Square or at the other end of the quarter, there is the smart casual Drop Forge, great for private parties. Around the corner on the Hockley side, The Lord Clifden, with its garden, seemingly larger than the pub itself and with focus on music and food. A few steps down The Church Inn opened in 2013.

At the heel of the clock outside the Big Peg which marks the centre of the area, there’s a diner menu available from Rose Villa Tavern,  the 100 year old pub to restored to some of its former glory in 2011, complete with an array of global beers, real ales and cocktails. Beyond the RVT the traditional Red Lion not to be confused with the recently re-opened Brown Lion.

For a long time, Saints Caffe was the lone warrior of independent coffee shops in the city centre. That itself has recently changed hands to end a superb era but in recent years It has been joined by version two of Urban Coffee Co, Brewsmiths, the fantastic old school café just by the back entrance of Snow Hill, and Pomegranate, the gift shop/tea shop. Coffee can also be partaken in Fredericks which turns into a sleek bar in the evening.

The Quarter has more heritage than I can fit in a cluster ring but highlights are the RBSA which displays and sells affordable local crafts and jewellery and St Paul’s Gallery which is famous for its album cover and pop artwork. There is JQ’s own theatre, the Blue Orange, the Newman Brothers Coffin Works is currently being restored plus the must-see Pen Museum run brilliantly by volunteers. Finally if you’re going to the Jewellery Quarter Museum pop into the delightful Vee’s Deli.

Oh, and there are over 100 jewellery shops and makers that get very busy on a Saturday as visitors come from all around the Midlands to buy quality jewellery at a good price.

All of this is just touching the solid shiny surface of this nugget in Birmingham’s history. You can find out more here or by booking on a tour with the wonderful IABTours. Or pop along to the residents social every third Tuesday of the month in the Drop Forge run by @MyJQ or Likemind on the third Friday of the month, which is open to all at the aforementioned Brewsmiths, who serve bottomless coffee. Get it while it’s hot!

By JQ dweller, Rickie, founder of Birmingham Favourites, who can be reached on @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites or add your comments below.

All American Menu at Rose Villa Tavern

By Deborah Broomfield

I recently had the privilege of being invited to a tasting of the new menu at Rose Villa Tavern by Birmingham Favourites

The menu has an American feel, with generous helpings and tastes and  influences from the different  States of America. This is in part being due to the influence of the new Head Chef who has spent there and the new menu shows a depth of flavour that illustrates some of what American food is about. Some of the exciting dishes are spicy and tangy and the menu is not just for the carnivores among us; vegetarians are also catered for!

I was one of a fairly substantial group of people who were treated to samples. I arrived a little later so did not sample all the choices but the dishes that I did experience left me pleasantly full which left me to conclude that normal size dishes will be generous and provide good value for money!

The surprise of the evening were the battered pickles spears. This dish may not sound appetising but the batter was flavoursome and the texture of the pickles was crispy and not soggy as I envisaged.

I sampled two types of hot dog the Chicago Hotdog topped with sauerkraut and yellow mustard and the New York. The beef hot dogs are of a great quality and my favourite turned out to be the Chicago - without the sauerkraut! There's also the Ohio and Arizona hotdogs which both have a “chilli kick” to them. The menu on the whole appears to have a lot of cheese as an ingredient but hey, it’s American diner food!

There are also sharing dishes on the menu which include Nachos Grande  plus the Sloppy Joe burger,which was apparently Evis’s favourite sandwich; ground beef cooked slowly with tomatoes and spices and topped with cheese. Unfortunately I didn’t taste this one but just describing it makes me feel like tasting it!

The range of burgers representing different states include the Philly and I sampled the RVT Mush 'n' Swiss - without dressings.

I had a really nice conversation with the Head Chef and came looking for feedback. I happened to mention that I had not tasted the chicken wings. He was really great and went and brought me some to try even though the sampling session was officially over! They were Buffalo wings New York style deep fried in herbs and spices with a hot sauce and blue cheese dressing.

I had a good American round trip in the Rose Villa Tavern and I have booked to do it again!

By Deborah Broomfield who can be contact via Twitter

More info on Rose Villa Tavern here or contact via @RoseVillaTavern

A Seagull's View of Birmingham

Written by Bob the seagull Bob We love Birmingham. All year round, we encourage our flying brethren to swap the seaside for canals and come enjoy the aerial view of a great international city. We're not seagulls, we're Brumgulls and we especially like to hangout in the Jewellery Quarter. It's fair to say we've settled here for its history but most especially that it's a quiet part of town that needs to be squarked about!

As my friend who twitters on behalf of @jqseagulls says, "Most JQ Seagulls are multilingual, have a Mensa level IQ, and have at least a Masters level Ivy League education." Despite our intelligence,  I don't feel that we have lobbied loud enough for the appropriate provision of toilet facilities in Birmingham. 

Yes, I know that if you are parked up in the JQ, that your car is going to fall victim to our doings. Not only that we are going to steal your food as we get hungry.  We are a public enemy and a nuisance and you've tried to fool us with fake eggs to reduce our population.

We might be deemed pests, but for us Birmingham is the place to be and we're proud to stay here. Life is never dull as a gull.

We're full of surprises! Join us daily at 4am for our daily squark in St. Paul's Square or 8pm for our orgy on Caroline St.  Brum culture for seagulls is non-stop. We mean no harm … we're just misunderstood!

Written by Bob, a seagull mainly residing in Hylton St, JQ during the day and occasionally hovering over the Red NIssan Micra on Northwood Street.