Over the summer, Bethan and I visited two very good Cardiff restaurants that specialised in the hot on-trend food of the moment: barbecue.
We enjoyed them a lot, and sadly thought how if we were twenty years younger we’d open a BBQ place in Aberystwyth.
And just as the nights are lengthening, and we start to miss that unpretentious meaty goodness, Backyard BBQ opens up.
But can they match the best Cardiff has to offer? And do the citizens of Aberystwyth want it?
Although we were a little miffed at how hard it was to get a reservation at Backyard, we were delighted to see how well they were doing. Legendary Aberystwyth lensman Keith Morris put some pix of them on Facebook days after they opened, and the word-of-mouth was excellent.
You might think that offering big plates of tasty food for reasonable prices is kinda obvious, but not enough restaurants spot it.
Backyard is down an alley off Baker Street (next door to the Treehouse).
There have been various eateries here in the last few years, few of which I’ve gone to because if you rock up, you have to stay.
Backyard is different as you know exactly what you’re going to get, and that positive early word-of-mouth is sufficient to pull people down the sort of alley you’d expect to meet Jack The Ripper.
You walk in, realize that the downstairs is the takeaway, and ascend to the restaurant upstairs.
It’s not huge, and the big tables mean they can’t always get in as many people as they could feed. If I were them, I’d copy Wagamama and have big long benches – that way you can look after a party of 12 or a couple.
The other waitperson was a lovely girl from the Valleys – and there’s an accent you don’t hear often enough here.
We love the Poles, and English and Chinese that throng the streets, but a bit of happy Valley girl, with a bell in every tooth, is a joy to the ear.
They apologized for having a blackboard rather than printed menus, but I think they should stick with it.
Not only environmentally-friendly, but as a new business they can be tweaking their offerings and pricings depending on what sells.
The menu is surprisingly wide, with plenty for all tastes and pockets.
The sandwiches looked huge, with interesting bread, long-smoked fillings and sides of fries and slaw. £8.95 seemed very fair.
Good range of burgers, a few veggie options that go beyond the usual basics (eg bap of mushroom, roasted pepper, onion & goats cheese) and charcoal-grilled salmon was very tempting.
But we’d come for the meat.
But first, the booze.
Beers were a bit boring – could do with a few IPAs on there – but the wine list was interesting and well-priced.
The Shiraz was recommended for the ribs, and it was their most expensive wine.
But when their most expensive wine is £15.95, it’s worth a try, and we were surpised how good it was.
Bethan normally prefers a white, but even she was delighted with this. Full of fruit and sun, it went very well with her ribs.
And what ribs they were!
Look at the size of them! Plenty of succulent meat in there, we can tell you.
But best of all – the “Spicy Asian Sauce”.
Not too spicy of course, just enough to give an exciting kick.
It gave the rich meat a welcome sweetness – and was that a hint of mirin?
That is a half rack of ribs (£12) – another £7 would get you the full rack, and a cardiac arrest for free.
Not very smoky – but Bethan was very clear that she didn’t see that as a deficiency. The meat was super-soft, super-tasty, well, let’s just say she was very pleased with it.
She was less excited by the sides – the fries were OK, the onion rings had a look of Aunt Bessie about them and the slaw merely fine. And she wishes she’d ordered the BBQ beans.
But she is currently at my shoulder stressing how pleased she was with her meal, especially at such a good price.
My “Platter” was the most expensive thing on the menu, and it’s what I’ll have when I go again. And the time after that.
Firstly, the brisket was the first thing I’ve eaten, in all three barbecue restaurants, that actually tasted of smoke.
And it was succulent and delicious too.
The piece of chicken was just a normal chicken quarter. Except it was particularly tender and tasty. There wasn’t a lot of rib, and it lacked Bethan’s amazing Asian sauce, but I still enjoyed it. And finally the pulled pork melted in the mouth.
I agreed that the fries were a bit perfunctory, and the corn didn’t add much, and the slaw was no better than Mr Morrison’s.
But that meat! Good heavens – it was all so tasty and soft and juicy and friendly and balanced. There must have been some fat in there (with all that Big Taste), yet it all just merged together in a tsunami of meaty taste. Surely that’s the whole point of a barbecue restaurant; anything else is (literally) just gravy.
I’m taking my grandchildren next time – they’re not going to believe it.
Look at this photo of our table at the beautiful moment when everything has arrived
If you look at that picture and say “Yuck – that looks awful!” then great, I’m glad I saved you the trouble of going to Backyard.
But if you think even “OK, I can see that looks alright” then you’re going to love it there.
But what about starters, and desserts, I hear you ask?
Not here. Other restaurants will try to get more money out of you for stuff you’re not bothered about.
Backyard BBQ is about the big mains. If you’re after a balanced three-course cuisine, or nice tablecloths, or menus in French , then look elsewhere.
Backyard is about the meat. I’m sure the veggie options are great, and Bethan’s having the fish next time, bit this is about the meat.
We went for the more expensive end of the menu, and it came to less than £50 for two. We slipped the nice staff a few quid and were delighted at the prices.
It may not be fine dining, but my definition of good value is something I can’t do at home, or can’t be bothered to.
I am not going to build a “smoker” in my garden, so having Backyard do it for me is perfect.
I didn’t go to the restaurant that was there before Backyard because they offered things like “pan-fried duck breast” – things I could do myself.
Of course, the real bargains are in the takeaway – half chicken and half rack of ribs for £11? You’d be mad not to!
Got guests coming round? Get a load of brisket & chicken & ribs in they’ll be easily pleased.
Plus, you can just turn up for the takeaway – with the sit-down meals you have to book well in advance.
And I can’t see them getting any less popular, either. Tasty meat isn’t going unpopular anytime soon.
I wish Backyard BBQ all the success in the world. They’ve hit on a winning formula early on, which is good for business.
I suspect they’re in it for the love of the food, and I reckon they’re already looking at new additions to that chalkboard menu.
I’m certainly going back, and it you’ve read this far, so are you.
See you there!
12a Baker St
Aberystwyth, SY23 2BJ
01970 358 867
EDIT 27 MAY 2014
Dafydd took three of his mates to Backyard BBQ last week, and they were delighted.
They had two of the 2-person platters (£35) and were amazed at the incredible volume of food these provided.
Smoked chicken, huge ribs, pulled pork, brisket, the tasty Asian sauce and a mountain of excellent chips
The place has developed an excellent reputation very quickly, and we wish the team all the best