backyard cafe

Top Ten Dishes of 2019

It’s been a huge year for the team here at MAOV HQ. Starting the year after being named Time magazine’s ‘Man of The Year’, I turned down a knighthood from the queen, Cheryl Hole. I won big at the global blogging awards, scooping the ‘Greatest Blogger Alive’, ‘Lifetime Achievement’ and ‘Most Unnecessary Wordcount’ awards, whilst narrowly missing out on the coveted ‘Best Line’ to Tom Carroll. I was immortalised in paper mache at a cafe in Huddersfield despite never have visited Huddersfield.

All of this is of course bollocks. I’ve learned this year that the ‘multi-award’ bit in my bio means absolutely nothing. If my life goal is to have my face flash up on a roundabout on the inner ring road following an award from a local panel best described as dubious, then I’ve fucked it. Properly fucked it. What matters is that this blog is still read, which it is in the largest numbers thus far, and that it is useful, which I think it is, at least 40% of the time. I’ve eaten a lot of food this year, some good, some bad, some great. Here are the ten best.

10) Tagliatelle with pepper dulse sauce and truffles. (0121) at Carters.

Do you find yourself looking at the menu for Carters and thinking it’s too expensive? Work harder, you shits. 0121 may be the answer for you. An unreserved area in the window by the bar with a small menu made up of ever-changing Carters classics. Think chicken liver cereal, oyster in beef fat, and the glorious scallop Brex-O. The pick was this, the best pasta dish I have eaten this year. Tagliatelle using ancient grains in a healthy amount of sauce that coats everything in a cheesey umami. Add truffle to the mix and you have a bowl of food well worth ruining your shirt for.

9) Tuna Ceviche. Chakana

Robert Ortiz’s plates of food are so beautiful to look at I don’t know whether to eat them or sexually harass them via text message. Go for the former and you’ll be rewarded with the complex flavours of Peru, where the quality of the fish stars alongside the sweet and the acidic. It’s finessed and fun. There is nowhere like it in Birmingham.

8) Roscoff Onion. Harborne Kitchen

I know a man called Rob who writes a thing called Foodie Boys. Rob thinks this dish is worthy of seventeen Michelin stars which demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the guide’s processes. It is, without a shadow of doubt, worth the maximum amount of nine stars that they can award a restaurant, being a comforting and well rounded homage to the humble onion. The best bit is the broth, seasoned with minus 8 vinegar for that sweet and acidic finish. Presently off the menu, I see it returning shortly in the future.

7) McYard. Backyard Cafe

The sausage and egg McMuffin of your dreams. One that runs with the basics of sausage patty and muffin, swapping the weird microwaved egg out for one that has been fried and oozes yolk, they’ve also upgraded the slice of a plastic cheese to a rarebit. And crispy onions, got to have those crispy onions. This could only have come from the filthiest of minds. Little wonder Rich’s partner always looks so happy when I see her.

6) Turbot chop. Riley’s Fish Shack

When I look back at the year one of my very favourite days was in Tynemouth. The sun was shining, we drank wine on the beach, and went to Riley’s. There is something beautiful about eating the produce of the sea whilst the waves break metres from your very eyes. That turbot was sublime; swimming in a garlic butter, the fat flakes collapsed at the nudge of a fork.

5) Bakewell tart soufflé. Craft Dining Rooms

Craft have had an interesting opening six months, changing Head Chef and key front of house on a number of occasions, but one consistent has remained; in Howing they have a pastry chef of serious talent. It’s practically impossible to choose a bad dessert here, but given the choice take the soufflé. Our first visit back in August featured this perfectly risen souffle, almond flavoured with a cherry compote at the bottom, just like a Bakewell tart. One of the very best soufflés I’ve ever eaten and I’ve eaten a lot of the fuckers. With Aktar Islam’s involvement and the arrival of Andrew Sheridan as Exec Chef it’s shaping up to be a very big 2020 for Craft.

4) Chicken Katsu. Ynyshir

The difficulty of Ynyshir featuring in a list of best dishes is that every dish potentially could be included. I’m going for Katsu chicken this year, an obscene mix of meat and compressed skin, coated in breadcrumbs and finished with Gareth’s version of a Katsu sauce which is way better than anything Wagamama have ever produced. Like everything they do here it’s direct and straight-to-the-point; a flavour-bomb of umami and acidity. February’s visit can’t come soon enough.

3) Langoustine. The Ritz

The highlight of my birthday lunch at The Ritz was this dish. So precise in delivery, the lightly cooked langoustines and buttery nage compliment each other perfectly. In a meal I have mixed emotions over, this was a three star moment that will live long in memory.

2) Patè en Croute. Carters and Calum Franklin

So good I almost cried, though with this taking place on a Sunday afternoon it might have been a comedown talking. A patè en croute of rabbit, pistachio, and bacon that revealed an acid smiley face throughout the centre when carved. Brad’s elated face when showing it off to the dining room was enough to make it a highlight of the year, though the flavour catapults it towards the top of the list. Incredible stuff. Holborn Dining Rooms is happening in 2020 because of this faultless meal.

1) Chicken Jalfrezi. Opheem.

When drawing up this list I had to ask myself what was the most important factor. I decided on a simple answer; what was the one dish I wanted to eat over and over again. Given that a battered sausage and chips from George and Helen’s lacks the finesse required to top such an elite list, I decided on the Chicken Jalfrezi from Opheem. It’s a dish that showcases exactly what Opheem is about: that marriage between French technique and Indian flavours; how the breast has the skin removed and is cooked sous vide, whilst the aforementioned skin is blitzed-up and reapplied to the meat to form a cripsy coating to the top of the meat. The picked leg meat turned into a spicy keema. The garnishes of different textures of onion, and the little blobs of naga and red pepper puree to be treated like English Mustard to give bright hits of heat. That sauce, gravy-like, which keeps growing in the mouth. It’s delicious. Like really fucking delicious. So delicious that I have phoned up on more than one occasion this year and asked (mid-week of course) if I can go and eat it as one course. I think it’s thirty quid if they say yes, but they might not, as I imagine that you are not Birmingham’s finest restaurant blog. In a world where I barely have time to visit anywhere twice, I have eaten this five times this year. It’s special. The best dish of 2019.

Top one taxi firm for the year goes to A2B Radio Cars

The Backyard Cafe, October 2019

At the turn of this year I creamed my pants about The Backyard Café. It was, I said, the best place for breakfast / brunch / lunch in Birmingham, despite not actually being in Birmingham. I stand by that statement. It is worth the detour, the Saturday morning hop on the bus to Kingswinford, or the lazy Sunday morning drive. It is worth arriving famished so that you can eat multiple plates, and cancelling the afternoon and evening meals to enjoy the cakes you’ll inevitably take away. The Backyard Café do it better than everyone else.

I insist we go this time to eat The McYard; their take on the ubiquitous breakfast bap from everyone’s favourite child fattening multi-national. It is familiar in structure and flavour profile, but that is where the comparison ends; this is a McMuffin on steroids, the Backyard’s Hulk to their David Banner. The sausage patty is robustly seasoned and light in texture, with a glazed rarebit (utter filth), fried egg (total filth) and crispy onions (not filthy enough), sandwiched between a halved muffin because that’s how Hamburglar demands it. It’s too much and yet never enough as I mourn it’s demise whilst wondering how I’ll waddle to the car to get home. They even get the Full English right; good quality bangers, bacon with crisp fat, creamy scrambled eggs, a kind of leftover veg hash, beans, black pudding, roast tomatoes and mushroom, toast. It’s £7.75. I’m sure someone, somewhere, thinks that is expensive but lets be real; I’ve paid three times that for a lot worse. I don’t come here enough so we also get the confit duck leg with mac and cheese. At first I thought the citrus glaze on the bird clashed with the cheesey pasta though it grew on me like the mole I should really see the doctor about. By the time we finished it I wanted more.

I know what you’re thinking. What you’re thinking is “get me off this rollercoaster of food excitement. I can’t take anymore”, but no, hold on, because we’ve got one last run left. We take home two cakes; a textbook custart tart with a light dusting of nutmeg, and a toffee, rum, and chocolate donut. I will repeat. A toffee, rum, and chocolate donut. I eat it whilst watching Landscape Artist of The Year, the boozy filling dribbling down my chin and onto my t-shirt. It is here, from the sanctuary of my sofa, I decide that we need to live much closer to The Backyard Cafe.

I probably should have got an A2B here

The Backyard Cafe, Kingswinford

Is forty minutes too long a time to travel for brunch? I don’t think so. I’ll often hop on a train for a good lunch, or drive three and a half hours to remote Wales for a dinner, so why not an earlier meal? We have inbuilt in our psyche a notion that the first meal of the day is less lavish than the latter ones; that it is more convenience than occasion. It is nonsense: breakfast is the basecamp of the day, the very foundations to build upon. Get it right and the rest simply falls into place. Get it wrong – or even worse miss it – and you spend the rest of the day playing catch-up. ‘We march on our stomachs’ said Napeleon, and he was named after three blocks of layered ice cream, so he must know a thing or two about food.

So last Saturday we left Moseley and took the drive to Kingswinford, all for a morning feed. It wasn’t a blind expedition; I know Richard Alexander can cook given his previous CV of street food and the client dining floor of my girlfriend’s work, but this is my first visit to a small town inbetween Stourbridge and Dudley. The new place is set back from the road, on a row of shops adjacent to Morrisons. Inside it is modern and fresh, with white-washed walls and foliage creeping out between the bars in the ceiling. On the counter where you pay is an inviting selection of lacquered cakes and patisseries. We’ll get to those in no time.

The resulting meal is one I’d travel for on a frequent basis. One that is not only pitched ideally for it’s location, but has enough in the cooking to make it stand-out amongst any of its competition across the West Midlands. A welsh rarebit sandwiches clumps of ham hock between the cheese mixture and a thick slice of toasted bread, with a fried egg that oozes its bright orange yolk at the nudge of a fork. This is my kind of breakfast; a dish that is built upon the principles of flavour and nothing else. Opposite me is a sandwich packed to the edge with soft roast pork, stuffing, and apple sauce, served with a shard of crackling, roast potatoes, crispy onions, and a pot of gravy for the leftover bread. It is happiness on a plate, though at £7.50 there can’t be much in the way of profit. It is mind-bendingly good; honest cooking that is full of technique which is not going to be fully appreciated (I’ve had worse crackling in two star restaurants). Sure, it is never going to win awards, but it will win hearts, mine included. This is food for everyone, cooked by someone who just happens to do it better than most.

We were supposed to eat a selection of cakes to drag this post out, but then the sticky bun happened. It arrived on the table, the crust full of dark lamination, with a side pot of something sweet and buttery that had hazlenuts bobbing on the surface for good measure. We pour over the glaze and eat before deciding that sharing is never going to happen in this circumstance. We order another. Eat another. Debate ordering a third and decide that would be excessive even for us. The bun could be served anywhere in Birmingham; at any of our brilliant coffee houses, in any of our fine restaurants. It is technically perfect; sweet and delicate, the layers peeling away with ease. It is £2.75. Honestly, the people of the Black Country have no idea how lucky they are.

Coffee is good if not spectacular, and service is well meant and cheery by a young team. The bill comes in at less than £25, which is embarassingly cheap for the skill that has gone into the cooking. On the way back we discuss what could be bettered, whereupon we both agree nothing. The Backyard Cafe is the end point for a chef and his partner who want to cook modest food in a location a stones throw from where they live. It just happens to be exceptionally well done. Right now this for me is the best of its kind in the region. It may or may not be close to you geographically but that should not stop you from hunting it down. This is food worth travelling for.

9/10

Before anyone gets on my back, they don’t have a website.