When I visited: July 2016
Team: Stephen Toman (Head Chef)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 1 star
What to wear: Men – jeans or nice trousers and a shirt; women – jeans and a smart top or a smart dress
Ambience: Low-key, fun
Course of the meal: Halibut, bisque, lemongrass and courgette flower
If I could change one thing: More appropriate cutlery
OX, newly anointed by the Michelin Guide, is a highlight of Belfast’s dining scene which provides good-quality food and attentive service without sacrificing its friendly atmosphere. Wooden long tables and chairs are scattered throughout a mezzanine floor and downstairs area, while the menu consists of ‘surprises’ for both meat-eaters and vegetarians (although you do get a printed version at the end).
I visited with some friends and we went for the ‘paired wines’ option with each course. This was a good choice as the pairings were one of the best elements of the meal – each glass went very well with its corresponding dish.
We started off with sourdough and Cuinneog butter, which was delicious and soft. Interestingly, the first glass of wine (rosé – La Source 2014, Chateau Vignelaure, 12.5% Provence) was served with the bread rather than with the first official ‘course’ – maybe they just didn’t want us to get thirsty. We continued to sip the wine with the amuse bouche course, which was pea, milk curd and red pepper caramel with verbena. This was well-balanced, but came with the wrong type of spoon – we got a round, soup-type spoon where a smaller, slimmer spoon would have been easier to use, and in fact this course felt like it could have done with more liquid or a consommé of some kind.
The next course was white asparagus with Parmesan, lardo and summer truffle, with a glass of white wine (Points Cardinaux 2013, Metiss, Bott Getyl 12.5% Alsace). This was a good course but not as flavoursome as the first course and the truffle flavour was in my opinion too subtle – I might not have known it was there if I wasn’t told. However, this glass of wine was very fresh and perhaps the best of the whole meal.
The halibut with bisque, lemongrass and courgette flower came next, which was a standout course in terms of taste and texture and came with another great glass of white wine (Ampelomeryx 2014, Domaine de Pellehaut, 13% South West France). We could have done with a fish knife for this but the actual course was very good.
The meat course, Mourne mountain lamb with nettles, oyster mushrooms, and burnt leek, was nice and tender, but at times a little too salty. Its paired glass of red (Crozes-Hermitage, 2014, J L Colombo, 13% Rhone) was fruity and not too heavy, but again we could have done with a knife to match the food, such as a specialist meat / steak knife.
Next came a welcome pre-dessert – strawberry, bee pollen and chamomile – which was light and tasty if not remarkable. The dessert itself was caramelised pineapple, star anise and saffron ice cream with a great glass of dessert wine (Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, Les larmes celestes 2014, Chateau Bouscasse, 13% Gascogne). I liked the dessert but as far as pineapple desserts go, it didn’t really compete with the tipsy cake at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
In some cases we enjoyed cheese to finish off the meal, while in others we had green tea, followed by some bonus petits fours for all – a passionfruit jelly, mini chocolate with rosemary, and elderflower mini macaron. Giving out printed menus as we left the restaurant was a nice touch as well.
Overall, I would say that OX deserves its Michelin star. It could make a few minor changes to elevate itself to 4 hoot-status, but it is already providing a great place to eat and drink in Belfast with a relaxed atmosphere and quality service.