So much has been written about The Ox, talked about, debated, discussed, disputed, argued, tutted and generally said it’s hard to know how to feel before you go there. People had encouraged us to go (its sublime), people had discouraged us on going (it’s dark, expensive and not all that), it’s hard to know what to do.So we looked at the menu.
So do you go or don’t you since you don’t know what to expect?
So we went.
The Ox is located under a Weatherspoon’s. For those not familiar with the Weatherspoon's chain it’s been described as the predictable place you never claim to go to, but always end up there for the food and drink. Yeah, makes no sense to me but I like it for its value and predictability. And they do famously have a designer carpet for all their pubs but enough about that.
Heading down some steep, what looked like marbled steps, you find yourself in an old world gentleman’s club, all wood panels, dark, mysterious with lamps of blown glass bunches of grapes. Even the gentleman barman sports sideburns and a friendly welcoming smile, as if you have entered an underground drinking den Dickens or even Sherlock/Arthur Conan Doyle could (or should I say would) have found familiar.
The LED screen of the computerised booking system is a little jarring as the staff check your reservation but soon forgotten as you are led into this darkened emporium of heavy drapes and solid mahogany furniture.Sat down we were presented with a simple one page menu and then it becomes clear. The menu is seasonal and dependant on deliveries. Of course. You think of a steakhouse and think steaks are perennial and I had thought I could have the ceviche. In February, on a Monday, what was I thinking? Well obviously I was getting it confused with the freezer/microwave factory that some steak houses are. But not here. The ceviche, and other seasonal items, had been replaced on the menu by other mouth-watering delights.
The Ox is known for many things – its steaks, of course, and sharing steaks, triple cooked chips, the charcuterie board, the ice cream, to name but a few – so it was hard to decide. Luckily the staff are excellent at helping and after discussing the options we went for the set meal for two. This contained, okay, predictably, that famous charcuterie board, a 30oz bone in steak, triple cooked chips and ice cream to finish. In short all the things we’d been told to try. But I couldn’t resist the bone marrow since it is, shall we say, a talking and talked about menu item. Given the strength of feeling on the subject let’s leave it at that since many a word has been exchanged on the subject over time.
The drinks menu is to be admired. The selection is superb for any taste and pocket and it was lovely to see local favourites like the Lyme Bay Brut Reserve on there, lest to say you won’t be disappointed in the list. And then looking around the place whilst we waited for our meal you do feel a sense of occasion. This isn’t a quick grab and eat steak place, the lighting, from those grape chandeliers, is low, the tables are heavy and steadfast, and the place has an almost permanent aurora of extravagance and indulgence.
People complain about the size, the closeness of the tables and the acoustics but that all adds to that ambience. On an adjoining table a group of six were all sat enthralled by an elder. It was hard to discern where he was from, and we didn’t want to listen in, but when he raised his voice to ask for more beer, explaining that he was “the designated drinker” it sounded so polite and posh until he forgot himself in admonishing one of his guests where it became the thick Black Country accent of my youth.
The starters came on chopping boards, and my heart sank. As a fan of “we want plates” I suddenly though I was in one of ‘those places’. But no, plates came. The charcuterie board was all the art of charcuterie and more – aside from the meats there was pate, kimchee, sharp mustard and flavoursome chutney, served with fresh bread and butter.
And the bone marrow.
I realise this is not to everyone’s taste but it was succulent, full of flavour and cooked to perfection with the sweetness of the shallots still evident. Despite the abundance of the charcuterie board I’m glad we ordered it.With plenty of time given us to have our starters, and told we could have a break before the main, we decided to march on. The steak was cooked to perfection, sliced so we could have our share, the triple cooked chips just divine and the leek and cabbage cooked gently in butter but with a hint of more, rosemary perhaps. All in all, such a simple repast but so tasty.
Again, we are reminded, we could have steak, chips and veg anywhere but this was certainly not your run of the mill meal. The attention to detail from the way the meal was cooked to the quality, made what appears to be just a simple meal into one that you cannot help but enjoy.
And then to desert. Ice cream. Not something I am particularly keen on but, of course, I should have been prepared. The ubiquitous chopping board of course. And six glasses. With ice cream in them. But all unique – White Russian, rum and raison, pear, mango – to name but four, we’ll let you discover the others! And more sorbet if I am to be honest than would traditionally be called an ice cream, a gelato if you will. All wonderful and so exactly as described.
So that was it, dinner over. And how wonderful was that. Often with modern dining you know the place is reliant on two covers per seat per night (if not more) so you are pressured to move. Or restaurants want to appeal to as many people as possible so they have these long elaborate menus with everything under the sun that leaves you wondering, but dare not asking, how they do that. But The Ox is neither of these things. They are true to the dining experience – good food and drink taken in a relaxed manner.