Restaurant review: The Ox, Edinburgh

The Ox bar and restaurant on London Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Alex Hewitt

The Ox bar and restaurant on London Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Alex Hewitt

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SINCE there are only five eating days left until Christmas, I tried to find somewhere suitably festive to review this week.

The Ox

49-51 London Street

Edinburgh

(0131-556 9808)

HOW MUCH?

Lunch for two, excluding drinks

£42

FOOD

8/10

AMBIENCE

8/10

TOTAL

16/20

All the usual suspects were booked up, so I ended up at this new gastropub, only partially because there are lots of good shops on the way down Edinburgh’s Broughton Street. My peg (a shoogly one) is that an ox has a bit part in the traditional nativity (they’re the ones without tea towels or tinsel haloes on their heads). Any excuse, though this place used to be The Bellevue pub, which wasn’t exactly renowned for its food.

Owned by the manager and head chef behind The Shore Bar and Restaurant in Leith, not much has changed since the takeover, apart from some trendier lighting, an affordable gastro pub style menu and a collection of hipster (but not too cool to be nice) waiting staff.

From the imaginative Snacks and Small Things list, which included goodies such as onion and ale soup (£5), or whitebait with smoked paprika mayonnaise (£4.50), we went for haddock tempura (£5).

It was a little slick overall, as a herb oil had been drizzled round the plate, and the chunky nuggets of fish had been deep fried. Also, the curried parsnip and pickled carrot mixture, which was finely chopped to an almost rice-like texture, was served cold so managed to quickly drain the heat from the battered meat that was stacked on top.

Despite the temperature confusion, the flavours were there – zingy, punchy and subtly spicy, with a peppery wig of springy pea shoots on top. Our spelt salad (£5) featured a mound of downy soft wheat with warm strips of roasted squash, Portobello mushroom and neat cubes of beetroot, all topped by a vampire-repelling roast garlic dressing and a generous scoop of crowdie, which resembled The Snowman’s decapitated head.

The perfect winter salad. I was walking in the air.

I’m sad about the ox whose twice braised cheek (£12.50) ended up on a plate, as he’ll have to take a sickie from his appearance in this year’s nativity. Still, it’ll give the donkey an opportunity to go all Laurence Olivier.

Oxy’s cheek was sweet, black as soot and stickily surfaced – all rivulets of melted fat and dissolving protein. It came with plenty of musky gravy, a pile of well pulped mash and strips of fondant carrot, sprinkled with a little caraway seed.

Our other main from the Bigger Things list was the grilled hake (£10.50). Although its skin wasn’t crisped up, this fillet was nicely cooked and seasoned, with a pillow of chunky sweet ratatouille, more mash (and that herb oil again, which was verdant and delicious, but, as a slight overkill, featured as part of every savoury dish).

The puddings weren’t that pretty.

My chocolate pot (£4.50) was served in a budget hotel-ish white ramekin, which was placed on a folded paper napkin. However, it tasted better than it looked – rich and ganache-y, with a smooth texture and a note of orange liqueur. On the side were two discs of sugar-glazed orange and a pair of enamel-challenging biscotti, which tasted good but were so hard that it was a bit like masticating Christmas baubles.

Our crumbly triangle of almond tart (£4.50) really wanted to be dunked in a cup of hot tea, but it made do with a flurry of Chantilly cream and the juice from pear chunks that had been poached in mulled wine or cider (we couldn’t work out which).

They mulled something! That fits into my festive theme nicely (forget the ox preamble, that was desperation talking).

Tinsel or not, I suggest you spend one of your remaining pre-Christmas eating days here. Hurry, there are only five left.

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