Baltic reboot at Two Cats Kitchen, Birmingham

Two Cats Kitchen, one of the most original restaurants in Birmingham, is shedding its “New Baltic” roots for a wider culinary exploration.

Chef patron Niki Astley is planning a liberating menu overhaul in the Jewellery Quarter to give full vent to his creativity and food influences.

Chef Niki Astley

Chef Niki Astley at Two Cats Kitchen

Two Cats was born in April 2014 as a “pop-up” known as Two Cats Roaming until a permanent home was found in 2015. The restaurant went on to garner hard-earned and promising national reviews and remains a beacon of originality among the dark morass of chain-dining Brum.

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Astley, a self-taught chef, set out to restyle traditional Baltic/western-Russian food, refining presentation, and preserving flavours while reinterpreting others. It has been a remarkably successful project and the natural flourishes and flavour pairings have been a breath of fresh air in the evolving city’s dining scene. I am thinking in particular of a starter of beetroot and buttermilk “gazpacho” and a dessert of celeriac ice-cream, pears, birch biscuit and verbena.

Beetroot and buttermilk “gazpacho”

Now it is time for change at 27 Warstone Lane. Astley says he launched Two Cats as an exploration of Baltic food, for which he coined the phrase New Baltic, as a way of approaching traditional dishes without the homespun quality. So robust Russian dumplings were more like lighter ravioli.

“lt was more the idea of a geographical palate,” says Astley. “The problem with all this is I’m not Baltic-Russian. Naturally, you don’t have to be [Baltic-Russian] to cook a style of food, but many times my own dishes and ideas are seen as part of the tradition.

“They aren’t and ultimately they belong only in my kitchen and nowhere else. This is why I’m leaving the Baltic behind. I want the food to belong to me and not to a culture.

“Eastern Europe is, and always will be, an element of what happens in the restaurant, but it isn’t my full story. To shut out those factors is essentially shutting out a part of me.

“When I first decided this I thought it would be easier, taking off the shackles if you will. Truthfully, fusing together myriad influences without becoming a banal fusion is a harder balance to strike than the limitations I initially imposed on myself.”

Chefs don’t make life easy for themselves, do they?

Astley’s new approach will be open to public scrutiny for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (23-25 March) and for lunch on the Saturday.

Two Cats Kitchen

Two Cats Kitchen in Warstone Lane, Hockley

Here is a flavour of the new menus:

  • Pine and onion
  • Sorrel, fresh cheese and young herbs
  • Black pudding, apple and sea urchin
  • Octopus, chia seed, lime, olive and olive oil
  • Turnip, honey, Marmite and shisho
  • Smoked Iberian pork neck, wild garlic and caramelised seaweed
  • Rhubarb, tarragon, ginger, Cognac and pepper
  • Cherry blossom and buttermilk

The seven-course menu is £49 and a drinks pairing will be available.

There are 24 covers for each service and bookings are by telephone: 0121 212 0070 (bank card required).

Astley will not be able to cater for “extreme” allergies at this time but says he will do once the new menus have bedded in.

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