THE irony is not lost on me. Before opening Ox & Finch, Jonathan MacDonald cooked for the McLaren Formula One team. Now he gets to create dishes for someone like me, who failed their driving test three times, once pranging a stationary dustcart. He must be very proud.
Ox & Finch
920 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £36
I’m no petrol head. I get around on two wheels. Jeremy Clarkson is an anathema to me.
We travelled from the train station by cab to this place, and, as soon as we passed through the door, were hit by a wall of sound. The acoustics in this high-ceilinged venue, where the walls are stripped back to bare brick, and there’s room for 70 in the body of the kirk and another ten at the bar, make for a brassy vibe.
But that suits the casual tapas theme, with a menu that features small dishes, in categories including meat; raw, cured, cold; seafood, snacks and vegetables.
Orders appear as they’re ready, and our first was the crispy fried squid (£6), which featured chunks of this sea creature as well as whole pieces, all breaded with a beige sandy coating, like Pompeii victims. Their crunchy pork-scratching-ness was lifted by a salad that featured orange segments, chilli and a thick saffron aioli.
Who knew that lettuce could taste so filthily good, when it came to the whole grilled baby gem (£3.50), which was still juicy from the braising process, and charred on the outside. Cut in two, each half was anointed with a Caesar dressing, a couple of whole anchovies and bubbly shards of chewy “Parmesan crackling”.
Our burly trio of lamb meatballs (£5) boasted layers of flavour, with a cumin hit and a cinnamony warmth. They came with a clean-tasting tzatziki, smoky baba ghanoush and a sprinkling of crisp hazelnut dukkah.
The flavours of all the dishes we tried were big, in your face, pow, bam. They’re not shy here, and you’ll find hunger reserves you didn’t know existed when there are such temptations. Health tip: they’re heavy handed with the salt, so drink lots of water (as if you’re in high-intensity step class), unless you want to desiccate like coconut.
On we forged, with the braised ox cheek (£7.50). It featured four knobs of soft and Marmite-rich beef, as well as a cauliflower purée and a sort of dry take on gremolata, with bits of bacon, thyme, chopped parsley and little crunchy crumbs of batter. So good.
Our roast skate wing (£7) and confit chicken leg (£7) were also fab. The wedge-shaped piece of fish was meltingly soft, with strands of samphire, capers and a sweet burnt butter sauce. The confit leg featured a wall, like a 3D jigsaw, created from tiny amorphous bits of chook. This came with a lemon butter sauce, which was dotted with peas, bacon bits and girolles. Of all the dishes, I suppose it felt the least exciting and was the most neglected by our Grand Prix standard eating team.
From a choice of four puddings or a cheese board, I went for the white chocolate mousse (£5). It was served in a glass, with a thin layer of sweet and slick mousse at the bottom, a layer of apricot jelly, another of a sort-of milky foam, then sprinkles of apricot praline (which tasted like brandy snaps).
We waited 40 minutes for our baked cherry clafoutis (£5), asked for it twice, then it turned out they’d given it to someone else. Still, they took both desserts off our bill and the waitress was as apologetic as if she’d run over our first born with a steamroller.
The food here is carnal, indulgent, satisfying and they don’t seem to care about delicacy. After this sensory overload, I left with an array of new cravings that I know will only be satisfied by a repeat visit. Perhaps I’ll learn to drive and invest in a racing car, to cut down my travel time. Dustcarts might want to stay off the M8 that day.
• 920 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow; 0141-339 8627, www.oxandfinch.com