OX restaurant owners: Our craft is about evolving, progressing and not just standing still
OX, which opened last year, is Belfast's most acclaimed restaurant. They have now extended their premises with the help of designers Oscar&Oscar. Jamie Stinson takes a look at how the two businesses complement each other
Since opening just over a year-and-a-half ago Belfast restaurant OX has wowed diners with its focus on seasonal produce and making the humble vegetable the star of the plate. Now owners, chef Stephen Toman and sommelier Alain Kerloc'h, are looking to enhance the dining experience for its customers with the launch of OX Cave.
Kitted out by Belfast design firm Oscar&Oscar, who did the main dining room, OX Cave is an extension to the Oxford Street restaurant.
Fitted with a bar, it allows customers to have an aperitif or a wee nip at the end of the evening.
Due to be open around mid-November, OX Cave was borne out of a desire to give customers who arrive early somewhere to relax while they wait for their table.
As Mr Toman and Mr Kerloc'h explain, initially they had identified upstairs in the restaurant as an area customers could wait, but as it became more popular this was no longer an option. Mr Toman said: "OX Cave is just to complement the restaurant. It's just to enhance the OX experience.
"We had upstairs as more of a gathering/waiting area for people to come downstairs, but at the weekends more and more people are requesting upstairs for a larger group.
"So we're going to use next door as what that was purposed for."
Since opening in March last year, OX has hardly had a bad word said about it and garnered much critical acclaim, but the owners are not letting that go to their heads.
Still, the trophy cabinet is weighed down. The Oxford Street venue was named the best restaurant in Ulster in an Ireland-wide round-up of the creme de la creme in August.
Stephen Toman was given the gong for best chef in Ulster - and the restaurant was also given a commendation in the best restaurant in Ireland category. The top award in the Food & Wine Magazine competition went to record six-times winner Chapter One in Dublin's Parnell Square.
The men of OX said they aren't taking success for granted.
"It's great to hear support from people at that level [critics], but our aim is to just keep the customers happy, keep our staff and ourselves motivated, and just enjoy what we do. Every day just push ourselves as hard as we can," Mr Toman said.
Mr Kerloc'h said there were always refinements to be made in improving the business: "I think there is always progress to be made. It's a restaurant, it's not a place you just open and say, ok that's it we've done it, let's keep it like this."
"Our craft is about progressing, it's about evolving, and not standing still."
But it's clear that a big part of their success is down to an unflinching attention to detail to make sure every diner gets as enjoyable an experience as possible.
Mr Toman said: "I think a lot of the success is down to Alain and myself being here every service. I've designed that kitchen so there isn't a plate of food that goes out that I don't see. And the way this restaurant is designed there isn't a table that comes in that Alain isn't at the table throughout the night. So if I miss it Alain will catch it, and if Alain misses it I'll catch it. So we're bouncing off each other."
The support from their customers has played a huge role in keeping them motivated, reassuring them they are on the right path.
Mr Kerloc'h said: "We have a lot of repeat customers, it's great when they tell us, 'we've been coming for 18 months and we are still excited to come here'."
Mr Toman added: "Just hearing customers say, 'we've been with you on the journey and see you going from strength to strength', and we know we're doing something right."