|Lucious Sunday roast at Edinburgh’s “The Ox”.|
I don’t dislike winter – quite the reverse. A crisp, clear winter’s day – especially in Scotland, where the light in such conditions can be truly amazing – is a pleasure to experience. However, come early March I begin to tire of winter days being, well, more night than day. Combine this with frequent harsh winds and driving rain (or worse still, sleet) and I long for the bright green shoots of spring to appear. Not only do things seem warmer and brighter, but this change in the seasons heralds the arrival of the first crops of the year.
|Whitebait with smoked paprika mayo.|
Refreshment – in every sense of the term – isn’t a characteristic that is only to be welcomed as part of the transition from winter to spring. Every now and again even once great eateries can become tired, jaded and in need of a freshen-up, or even a total reinvention. A case in point is the hostelry located on the corner of Edinburgh’s Broughton Street and London Street. It’s a quirky venue that has encountered several incarnations over the years. I first knew it during my student days as the “spit and sawdust” boozer that was The Bellevue. It then was transformed into the wannabe trendy Mezz – which catered a decent brunch – and then returned to being The Bellevue, another wannabe hipster-esque joint – that did OK burgers.
|Haddock tempura, curried parsnip, pickled carrot & pea shoots.|
Just before Christmas last year, I leant that friends of friends were part of the team that had taken over The Bellevue, transforming it into The Ox. Apparently, the brainchild of three renegades from Leith Shore, this reinvented establishment constitutes one of my favourite, if slightly clichéd, type of eateries – a gastro-pub. From the first time (in the 1990s) I dined in Farringdon’s The Eagle, with its open kitchen and stupendous cuisine, I have been a big fan of a pint and a posh pie. Or posh fish and chips. Or mezze. Or tapas. I think you get the idea.
Walking through the entrance to The Ox it was apparent that changes to the venue had been subtle. Its position on the corner of the road at the bottom of a hill mean it has an interesting layout; a wedge-shaped, but still spacious, bar area leading to stairs that link to a mezzanine dining area. Scanning the surroundings, they appear well thought out encompassing a mix of traditional and modern decor, and some nice, bovine-themed artwork. It is called The Ox, after all…
|Twice-braised ox cheek, fondant carrot and mash.|
Now I have to point out that this is a slightly unusual review, insofar that it is based on two visits to the venue. All will become apparent in due course. And things started well on our initial visit, with an attentive front of house seating us promptly, and delivering a chilled jug of water whilst our main drinks were being poured. A nice touch. But even nicer was the contents of The Ox‘s menu. It’s not the most expansive. But that can be a good thing, when an eatery focuses on doing a sensible number of dishes really well. At first glance, what’s on offer looks like typical pub fare: fish and chips, burger, chicken supreme etc… Yet look closer and there is some really interesting sounding dishes on the menu; courgettes, Isle of Mull cheddar and chilli on toast; and grilled hake (a much under-rated fish in the UK) accompanied with ratatouille and a herb oil.
On our inaugural visit we kicked of proceedings with a couple of dishes from the “snacks and small things” section of the menu. Being a lover of seafood, I was instantly drawn to the whitebait. These were delightfully crispy on the outside, and melted in the mouth to release an intensely deep fishy flavour. The accompanying smoked paprika mayonnaise was obviously home-made, and added a lovely sweetly earthy contrast to the piscine taste bud punch. For his starter, JML also choose fish, in the form of haddock tempura with curried parsnip, pickled carrot and pea shoots. This was a knock-out dish featuring perfectly cooked chunks of white fish, encased in light-as-air batter, all splendidly enhanced by the accompaniment of the spicy, warm root vegetable chutney as it duelled with the zingy acidity of the carrot pickle and hints of grassy-fresh pea.
|Posh cheese burger, chips and gherkin.|
If our starters were all about fruits of the sea, our second round of dining was unashamedly carnivorous. I am a real fan of “nose to tail” eating – if you are going to kill an animal for food, as much of it as possible should utilised. So, I chose from the list of “bigger things” the twice braised ox cheek, mash, fondant carrot and gravy. Whilst the dish that arrived may have appeared simple, its taste was quite the reverse. The lusciously dark cheek was packed with meaty flavours and a long, slow cook meant it practically dissolved in the mouth, whilst the carrot was sweetly cooked to just the right point, with the mashed potato deliciously smooth and creamy. Bathed in an intensely rich beef stock (and possibly wine) reduction, for a pub, this was a really accomplished main. The 8oz, handmade “The Ox” burger – with the addition of cheese – was what grabbed JML’s appetite. Served in a brioche bun and accompanied by fries, salad and a gherkin, the beef patty was succulent and flavoursome, and the chips were hand cut, crispy, and plainly cooked to order. A competent take on a pub grub classic.
|Frangipane and pear tart, with poached pear and cream.|
And all too soon our tasty lunch was over. Impressed by what The Ox had offered I felt duty bound to tweet about it, before writing a review. And our friend – who is a mutual friend with The Ox‘s chef and his partner – immediately retorted “You should try their Sunday lunch!” So… a little over a week later, JML, our friend Marie and I sat in eager anticipation of our sabbatical midday feast. Being creatures of habit – or probably because we enjoyed them so much before – the two chaps at the table went for the same starters that were consumed previously, and they were just as tasty. Marie’s crispy squid with sweet chilli jam was as flavoursome as our own opening dishes – she insisted we tried it, honest! Yet at the centre of the culinary show was roast rib of beef. The succulent meat was offset by a great range of veggies, crisp roasties, and Yorkshire puddings that benefited from a flavour boost provided by a hint of mustard, or horseradish running through the batter. Very clever. I could also wax lyrical about the following pear frangipane tart, with poached pears and Chantilly cream that brought out lunch to a close, but I am close to my word count limit.
The Ox is a place that really emphasises the “gastro” in gastro-pub. Its laid back front of house ambience certainly does not detract from the inventive and competent cooking that takes place in the kitchen. So, If you are after a fresh take on pub grub this spring – or any season this year – I would wager you would be as stubborn (as an “Ox”) not to be tempted by the charms this very pleasant wee eatery.
Ambience – Expect a relaxed bar / gastro-pub.