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