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Ox

1 Oxford Street, Belfast, BT1 3LA, United Kingdom

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Ox opened in 2014, the creation of chef Stephen Toman and sommelier and Alain Kerloc’h . It seats forty diners at any one time in the main room. Mr Toman had previously worked in Arizona and in Paris at Taillevent and Arpege. The dining room is quite plainly decorated, with a mezzanine level available for private functions or as an overspill area. On this particular evening there were thirty diners and seven chefs in the kitchen. Tables are reasonably well spaced and there are no tablecloths, but despite the wood floor and music playing, the high ceiling meant that the noise levels were fine.

There was a six course tasting menu at £60, or a four course menu at £40. The wine list had an emphasis on natural and biodynamic wines, with several somewhat obscure producers, though there was a “classic” wines section that was more conventional. It ranged from £28 to £360 in price, with labels such as Vigneti del Salento I Muri Primitivo 2018 at £32 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £6, Huerta de Albala Barbazul 2017 at a chunky £48 compared to its retail price of £8, and Roger Sabon Cuvee Les Olivets Chateauneuf du Pape 2015 at £82 for a wine that will set you back £29 in a shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as Chateau Batailley 2015 at £167 compared to its retail price of £65, and Pierre Naigeon Charmes Chambertin 2015 at £360 for a wine whose current market value is £149. 

The meal began with a canapé of a gougere of Irish Coolattin cheddar from West Wicklow, filled with onion vinaigrette. Alongside this was a spoon filled with peas flavoured with lemon verbena and a ganache of foie gras. This was very enjoyable, the gougere still warm and the mix of the onion with the cheese working well, though perhaps the choux pastry could have been a little lighter. The peas had very good flavour and went well with the richness of the foie gras (16/20). Sourdough bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and was pleasant enough though with limited acidity. It came with excellent creamy butter from Cuinneog in west Ireland.

The meal continued with salt-cured halibut with cauliflower, buttermilk and almonds with a little dill oil. This was pleasant enough, the almond texture a useful texture contrast to the fish (14/20). This was followed by an onion galette with tomatoes, basil, Ballylisk cheese and broad beans. The vegetables were fine but the pastry was odd, being very thin yet hard to cut through (13/20). 

Scottish scallops sliced and seared in a pan, somewhat unevenly it has to be said. The shellfish came with Paimpol beans from Brittany, burnt lemon and sea herbs along with squid ink. The sea herbs were quite salty and although one of the scallop pieces tasted fine, another was rather flaccid in texture. The scallop had rather limited natural sweetness, though the beans were good (13/20).

My main course was Cote de Boeuf, a short rib of beef from County Antrim, with black garlic, smoked potato, bone marrow, turnip, shallot and girolles. The beef was very good and the smoked potato worked nicely with it, while the girolles were excellent quality (15/20). This was better than a vegetarian alternative of summer vegetables with king oyster mushrooms, assorted carrots, artichokes, smoked potato, baby courgette and Italian autumn truffle, which was harmless enough though perhaps could have been seasoned a little more.

The transition to dessert came via a chocolate mint ice cream with tempered mint leaves, which was enjoyable but very minty (15/20). Irish blackberries came with pear, toasted oats and wood sorrel and had nice flavour, the oats providing a textural contrast (14/20). Coffee was a single origin coffee from Costa Rica called El Perezoso, medium roast and very pleasant. This came with some petit fours: caramel with miso biscuit, a chocolate and cherry sphere, and a nicely made passion fruit pate de fruits. 

Service was excellent, the staff friendly and enthusiastic. The bill came to £155 per person with some good wine, a Vega Sicilia Pintia 2013 at £107 compared to its retail price of £64, which was one of least marked up wines on the list by some margin. If you ordered the shorter menu and shared a modest bottle of wine then a more typical cost per head might be around £75. Overall Ox provided an enjoyable if slightly uneven experience, with some quite inventive but not wacky dishes, the best of which worked very well.

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