I love the sense of occasion at the thought of dining in a Michelin starred restaurant and just before the second lock down was imposed in Northern Ireland, we were lucky enough to get a sitting at Ox Restaurant in Belfast. And when I say lucky, I mean it – this place is so popular that a sitting during peak times needs to be booked well in advance!
When a restaurant is awarded a single prestigious culinary ‘Michelin star’ it means it’s a “good place to stop on your journey, indicating a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard”. So does Ox Belfast live up to the accolade?
When Ox first opened in Belfast in 2013, I distinctly remember the hype – Stephen Toman (formerly of James St Belfast) and Alain Kerloc’h were creating new waves in the dining experience, never seen before in Belfast. The critics clearly agree and the first Michelin star for Ox came in 2016, and the pair have retained it ever since.
Looking out onto the River Lagan, it doesn’t look particularly striking from the outside – in fact when we walked up to it we did the whole “is this it?” thing…maybe part of the façade and intrigue?
The interior is much the same with a ‘styled industrial’ feel to it with walls bearing exposed brick, the floor a polished concrete, and not a tablecloth in sight. Not the kind of place if you’re looking for glamour and opulence, however, that’s not what Ox is about at all.
It sells itself on ‘dining with seasonal creativity’ and creating close relationships with local suppliers – evident to see from the menu which lists the seasonal ingredients that are used in the dishes “showcasing Autumn’s larder”.
We had the 6 course tasting menu but diners can choose between a 4 or 6 course menu but the 4 course is only available mid-week. At £60 per person for the 6 course menu you are treated to an incredible array of quality ingredients presented in a meaningful way that is both pleasing to the eye and the palette.
As soon as you come in through the door, you get a very relaxed vibe, with music playing in the background and a nice level of chatter among fellow diners. I imagine in a time before Covid, the hustle and bustle might have been a bit louder but for the times we’re in the tables are nicely spread out and for a relatively small space you don’t feel crowded. The staff are super friendly and given the reduced number of tables that they are able to serve, it’s a testament to the management to be able to serve such quality ingredients at a very reasonable price!
From the menu it is really clear to see the chefs here have a real passion and connection to the seasonality of food and its origin. Just as the menu promises, each course is a little plate of artwork, creativity at its best, with ingredients that are dedicated to the Autumn season.
Absolute highlights for me were the Gougére, a choux bun with cheese in the pastry. This had a gorgeous smooth cheesy filling followed by the aftertaste of undertones of fresh tomato. Excellence to start!
The Celeriac velouté was smooth, and the comforting warmth and earthy tones was just pure comfort and luxury.
The Skeaghanore Duck was served with fig, earl grey, cauliflower stem – I loved this combination. The duck was just seared, served the most gorgeous pink colour and coupled with the sweetness of the fig it was just divine; exactly the kind of dish that would earn a Michelin star!
The Halibut, served with curry and lemongrass was out of this world – I cannot describe the flavour intensity that came with the curry. It was an absolute explosion and a real depth of flavour.
The shining star of the evening for me, and I would visit again for this dish alone, was the dessert (no surprises there!). 70% Chocolate, with ginger and a coconut sorbet. Stunning! The incredible richness of the chocolate, balanced with the freshness of the coconut sorbet, with a hint of caramel and ginger cutting through – a real celebration of tastes and textures!
Little touches like brown paper menus and the Sourdough being served in wee rustic brown bags all add the touch of class that Ox Belfast is synonymous with. The staff were very knowledgeable about the food and were able to add little nuggets of information about each and every course – just making the experience that little bit more personal!
Overall I can see why Ox created a wave when it first opened, and has continued to sit with the best in Northern Ireland. There is something incredibly satisfying about eating in a place like this. You can take a sense of satisfaction knowing you’re enjoying sustainably sourced food, supporting local businesses all the while witnessing some of the best culinary talent in Northern Ireland!
If high quality ingredients and the art of refined and sophisticated food is your thing, then you will appreciate Ox Belfast – absolutely worth a visit when our restaurants reopen!
1 Oxford Street
Telephone: 028 9031 4121
WRITTEN BY: IMELDA MCCARRON