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Cats Tales

This venue has since closed.

From The Birmingham Post. June 23. 2004

by Jayne Howarth

 When a vegetarian cafe opened in Walsall. I was not the only person to be surprised. It hardly seemed the right place for something so radical and the town is not exactly crawling with great places to eat.

 I gave its survival six months. tops.

 Two years on and Cat's Tales is still going strong. But while it cuts the mustard as a friendly little cafe or morning coffee. lunch and afternoon tea. I was unsure about its credentials as a bistro for dinner. While we may go for a Thai. Indian. Italian or Mexican. going for a veggie (particularly in Walsall) doesn't trip off the tongue in quite the same way.

 Depite protests to the contrary. veggie food is still viewed by many as all millet and flatulence-inducing lentil burgers served up by a hippy in a kaftan and open-toed sandals.

 But there wasn't a lentil in sight when I tried it out with two friends recently. It opens for only two nights a week - Friday and Saturday - and the small downstairs dining area was pitifully bereft of diners when we turned up: only three tables were occupied. This is such a shame as people are missing out on good food at reasonable prices.

 It offers the sort of food you'd be glad to eat at home; it's not fussy or cheffy and there are no pretensions. And. because it's unlicensed. you can take your own wine.

 Simplicity is the key to Cat's Tales. which is owned by Frenchwoman Cat Desmenez who is celebrating (her words) 20 years' living in Walsall. The pine tables. chairs. cutlery and glasses are from Ikea; the plain laminated menu is littered with the words "simply served"; the service is friendly. It feels very homely and Cat is genuinely welcoming and interested in the opinions of her diners.

 There were five starters and main courses to choose from. some of which could be adapted for vegans. As we ruminated over the choices. we were served a shared amuse bouche of beetroot hummus with slices of wholemeal baguette. The hummus was incredibly smooth and while you couldn't really taste beetroot. there was a delicious pungency of garlic which made it very moreish. The bread was fabulous. too.

 Friend one decided to go for the soup of the day. which was roast veg; friend two chose the garlic mushrooms. vegan style. while I decided to go for the Mexican bean pate.

 The huge bowl of soup was thick and very hearty. beautifully seasoned and likely to have been made the previous day as the flavour was much more intense than had it been a freshly-made batch. No particular vegetable jumped out as a dominant flavour and it was rather remiss of us to forget to ask what was in it but it every drop was enjoyed with more of the fresh. warm crusty bread.

 My pate was. again. very garlicky. but was quite a fabulous combination of red kidney beans. peppers. herbs and spices. It was fairly coarse but with good texture and balanced flavours. Served with warm pitta bread. it made for a great introduction.

 The garlic mushrooms were also a meal in themselves and were incredibly pungent. Thankfully my friend didn't have any romantic escapades planned for the next day or those mushrooms would have put paid to that. The button mushrooms were cooked to perfection. juicy but still firm. and served in a stock-garlicky jus which was mopped up with more bread.

 It wasn't the amount of garlic which defeated her. it was the portion size. So grudgingly she left about half. so she could enjoy her main course - bean bourgignon served with a red onion and herb mash.

 This red wine casserole comprised huge chunks of carrot. baby onions. mushrooms and red kidney beans and the richness of the gravy was offset by the creamy mash.

 The vegetables. again. were nicely cooked. with enough bite left in them so they weren't reduced to a sloppy mess and the gravy was seasoned delicately so the overall dish was balanced but my friend thought it just a little too wintry for the time of year. "I want to eat this on a really frosty day. It's a little too much for early summer." she said.

 My other friend had no such complaint with her mushroom and sun-dried tomato open lasagne. It was a much lighter version than a traditional serving. with no heavy sauce or layer after layer of dense pasta. cheese and filling.

 The sheets of plain lasagne were al dente and laced with a creamy sauce described as "unbelievably good". It looked great. too.

 My spinach and goat's cheese pancake was also a success. The pancake was just a little on the firm side but it was packed with chopped spinach and there was just a hint of goat's cheese. so it wasn't burdened by richness. The reduced tomato sauce which surrounded it was fantastic. its piquancy cutting through the fresh greenness of the spinach.

 Of course. we left enough room for pudding. Friend one couldn't resist the chocolate mousse which was described tantalisingly as "light and fluffy. but very rich"; friend two opted for the lightest dish. a melon carnival. while I chose the apple and apricot crumble with ice cream.

 The chocolate mousse was an instant hit with all three of us. Dark. bitter with a just enough sweetness to stop the mouth from feeling sapped. it was exactly as promised. The melon carnival. an assortment of melon balls topped with a tangy raspberry coulis and ice cream. was ideal after my friend's rich main course.

 But my crumble verged on the disastrous. The crumble topping was dry and. seemingly. uncooked. Unfortunately it was inedible and the vanilla ice cream tasted bland and uncreamy. It was the only blot on the whole evening. however.

 The bill. which included a freshly-squeezed pear juice and three coffees. came to a notch over £57. It's a credit to Walsall that there is a veggie café §oing strong. I just wish more people would go in the evenings. Perhaps it's about time the people there decided to go out for a veggie.

Food: Vegetarian




Town Wharf

Telephone: 01922 611622


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