The Leeds food scene continues to grow from strength to strength, and one which has stood out from the crowd of this new breed is Ox Club. Anyone who loves food, who’s been in Leeds over the last year will probably have eaten something from Belgrave Music Hall conjured up by Ben Davy, the mastermind behind Dough Boys, Patty Smiths and British Street Food Award winners Fu-Schnikens. Ox Club’s hangar steak had already become a hit after a few flirtations at Belgrave, however it was their highly anticipated opening in Headrow House, even though delayed which became a bonus early Christmas present for Leeds folk. Its launch had the desired effect with a steady stream of yummy photos filling my Instagram feed, doing the inevitable and making me very eager to get my chops around some Ox Club fare!
With dismay I thought it may be months until I’d be back in the north, but the food gods looked favourably upon me with a mates’ birthday dinner. Reading the news literally made me whoop with utter joy, so I decided to try brunch too – nothing wrong with a double whammy, eh?!
Having seen the space in its early building site days and as Big Lil’s, its previous guise, the place is completely transformed with an understated dining space – bare wood, concrete floors and white painted brick walls. An open kitchen is adorned with the beast of a Grillworks Grill, providing the fire power to bring out the best in local produce showcased in the menu. Their thoughtful menus salute inspiration from a range of food cultures, in particular from a trip in North American with influences subtly reflected.
Let’s start with brunch first – as per usual drinks to whet the appetite were of major importance with a Bloody Mary, Ox Club have a pimped up version with a simply genius move of using their very own steak infused vodka…yes you read right – S.T.E.A.K I.N.F.U.S.E.D V.O.D.K.A! So not only is there a balancing act from a smack of Tabasco heat, tomato sourness etc….there’s also steak meatiness! At the time this was the only brunch cocktail on the books, much to my disappointment, so I stuck to a trusty North Star coffee.
Service is relaxed and easy going, all in a good way as people don’t take themselves too seriously here, but still give a helping hand with the menu if required. Expect food that’s something a little different from the norm – where boundaries are pushed as far as mainstream breakfast or brunch goes. There were three of us, but four dishes ordered – why? Well, I’m basically a greedy little bugger and didn’t want to settle on one, ordering a conservative two.
For all establishments serving breakfast/brunch it’s hard to get away from having a version of the full English on the roster. However, similarly to their evolution of Bloody Mary they have their own take which includes pork belly, German sausage and home fries. With extra bacon added on the side the other half was suitably well fed to tackle the rest of the day. In fact, the pork belly was so good they should put that on the sides menu, because I’d be all over it!
Kimchi chicken was my first port of call – the amalgamation of a multitude of tastes and textures playing around in my mouth was a joy! Crispy chicken, sourness and heat of fermented kimchi, balanced by the nutty wild rice and the addition of a fried egg with runny yolk makes it a winning dish!
Cassoulet was my second choice – a comforting dish with some tasty elements; in particular the sausages and Guinea fowl. However it lacked a little something, mainly because the flageolet beans were a touch under seasoned.
Their evening menu follows the small plates trend with dishes like hangar steak, ox cheek and razor clams, as well as plenty to tempt vegetable lovers. Notably a roasted cauliflower plate that’s quickly gained cult status and been at the forefront of diners memories!
Highlights off the menu were many, my favourite picks – chicken schmaltz, not on the menu as such but it was an opening gambit I’d be happy to start a meal with any day! Some restaurants may offer olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, not here – this nectar from the food gods was basically like chicken dripping, or in my mind roast chicken in liquid form.
The burrata was another favourite, something so simple giving maximum pleasure – beautifully creamy and smokey, treated simply with fennel, lemon and black pepper was a treat!
Melt in the mouth Ox cheek that’d been cooked until its meaty gelatinous texture lovingly gave up in my mouth, bringing along with it deep flavours – sublime! Hangar steak beautifully cooked, a little more salsa verde with its umami herbiness would’ve made it even more awesome. It came with cracking chips too, with smoked sea salt and Bloody Mary ketchup – they’ve really thought of everything!
Roasted cauliflower – this supposed ‘side dish’ has been winning the hearts of everyone and I’m not surprised. I’ve tried this veg roasted a few times, not always successfully. When done well it’s incredible and full of flavour, the innate taste of the vegetable changes and it’s brilliant at taking on more intense flavours. With a piquant romesco sauce and flaked almonds it’s a must order dish, even if your not a fan of the veg, this dish could win you over.
Dessert-wise the lemon tart was always my first choice, I’m not the greatest dessert lover usually, but I can be tempted by something citrusy and this is one of my favourites, so much so it was our wedding dessert. As this only needs a few ingredients a lot can go wrong, so a pastry that’s short and crumbly is compulsory, filled with a silky creamy lemon filling, possessing a sharp enough hit of lemon just enough so you don’t wince. Ox Club’s was right up there and top notch.
It was only a matter of time before food maestro Ben Davy and his pals would open up a fully fledged establishment, with grown up plates of food which don’t cost the earth – Leeds is a very lucky place to have them!