Eye-poppingly good Modern British food served in an understated dining room? In local parlance, says Zoë Perrett, this Leeds venue is mint
A meal that starts with the offer of a dish of warm liquid chicken fat with which to anoint chunks of crusty bread is never going to end badly. And indeed, with the involvement of smoked caramel, this one ends every bit as well as it begins.
We’re dining in Ox Club – a restaurant which occupies the ground level of Leeds’s five-floor Headrow House, a former textile mill which bills itself as a ‘multi-use arts and event space’. That’s all well and good, but for us (as I suspect for you, dear reader) it’s all about the food.
Ox Club is a part of omnipresent local restaurant guru Ben Davy’s oeuvre, and, with a fan in critic Jay Rayner and listings in both the Good Food and Michelin guides, it’s perhaps the most upmarket. With brick walls, schoolroom-style furniture, blackboards and a shiny-tiled pass, the dining room’s vibe is rather refectory-ish, but the addition of touches like a set of shelves cluttered with homely paraphernalia means it stops shy of stark.
The menu is concise and ever-changing, with Davy often sharing sneak peeks of dishes in development on his @mrpristina Instagram feed. In fact, it was an enticing image of fu-ramen that prompted tonight’s visit, and which now has LB and I breaking our unspoken rule of never, ever ordering the same thing as one another in order to always sample the maximum in any given meal.
This take on ramen flips the script on the traditional version, reducing the usually-abundant broth (in this case, a 36-hour pork and chicken broth) to an intense, luscious sauce on which sits a melting chunk of pork belly, half a soft-boiled egg, fermented bamboo shoots and other assorted delicious gubbins. It’s an idea that’s genius in its simplicity, resulting in a dish that’s perfect for me – she who loves the flavour of broth but hates the slosh.
Despite being united in our starter, we’ve managed to go our separate ways when it comes to the next course. For LB, a generously proportioned grilled lamb leg steak and charred hispi that’s seasoned with fiercely spicy Italian sausage n’duja, whose meaty heat increases the cabbage’s own lipsmacking qualities tenfold. For me, a 28-day dry aged sirloin, prettily pre-sliced and fanned out alongside a bone marrow bearnaise and watercress so peppery it brings tears to my eyes.
Side dishes are equally praiseworthy – fat chips which we dunk into the second helping of that chicken fat we sheepishly, gleefully requested, and a grilled quarter each of a head of cauliflower and broccoli; the former dressed Spanish-style with romesco sauce, sherry vinegar and almonds, the latter with pumpkin seed pistou and salty-sharp blue cheese oil.
The consumption of a couple of large g&ts and bottle of Parker Station Pinot Noir has rendered us suggestible, so we allow our arms to be twisted by the mild enquiry ‘would you like to order dessert?’. ‘Toffee crisp’ reveals itself to be a silky-smoky, beautifully bitter ganache bedded on a sea of puffed wild rice coated in the aforementioned, almost bacon-y smoked caramel – a pud made all the more perfect eaten alongside scoops of parfait-like peanut butter ice cream.
Ox Club offers brilliantly executed food, but it’s food that’s resoundingly not poncey. It’s Modern British in its truest, greatest sense – variously borrowing ingredients, techniques and dishes from around the world but serving them up as something that makes sense to a nation whose cuisine if historically rooted in the school of meat-and-two-veg.
You know the kind of food you’d eat if a friend who’d digested and mastered the collective works of the likes of Ottolenghi, Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall invited you round for tea? That’s what you’re in store for here. To shoehorn in a couple of Northernisms in surmising, Ox Club is nowt short of absolutely mint.
Make it happen
Where: Ox Club at Headrow House, 19a The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 6PU
Find out more: To visit the website, click here