Restaurant Review: Ox in Belfast - masterclass from a superchef
Ox. Oxford Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9031 4121
Three-Michelin star chef Alan Passard teamed up with Ox's Stevie Toman to create a magnificent eleven course menu which set social media alight
When superchef Alan Passard, owner of the three-Michelin star l'Arpege in Paris, makes his third appearance in Belfast in three years, you know something is up. Passard is up there in the world listings of best chefs. He rubs shoulders with Alain Ducasse, Jose Andres and Rene Redzepi. L'Arpege is one of the best restaurants in the world with an endless waiting list for reservations. He does not need to come to Belfast yet he is drawn back here in what has become an annual pilgrimage to Ox, our own temple to brilliant food.
Chef Stevie Toman and manager Alain Kerloc'h have enjoyed a relationship with Passard for many years. Kerloc'h managed l'Arpege for some time and Toman has done countless stages there. And it is Passard's evident love of Ox which keeps him coming back. "I just love it here; I love Belfast, the people, Alain and Stevie," he says. "For me it's a working holiday."
Earlier this week his working holiday resulted in a dinner the likes of which I haven't enjoyed since a trip to Spoon, Alain Ducasse's experimental restaurant in Paris, with the adviser 15 years ago.
Passard and Toman cooked alternate dishes in a set menu of 11 courses, each one better than the next.
Over a period of two nights, the great man and the Ox team displayed a masterful show of skills to serve up the most delicate yet explosively tasty little onion galettes, gougeres, and forensically reconstructed eggs to get things moving along. The masterclass which had begun at 6pm on Monday continued for hours during which all 11 courses were consumed amidst gasps of admiration and groans of joy.
Had you closed your eyes and listened, you might be forgiven for believing you had stumbled into a Parisian swingers' party in full flow.
Magical things happened immediately. A hot and cold egg with four spice cream served in a topped egg shell and served with a glass of Larmandier-Bernier champagne (no, me neither) set the standard. Unctuous, creamy, savoury and with a surprise hit of what I thought was vodka but turned out to be Dead Rabbit whiskey, triggered the starting gun to a journey into brilliance, bright textures, high density flavours and occasional visual shocks.
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Jerusalem artichoke velouté with soy, lemon and chicken skin, followed by "celerisotto" with chestnuts (I think my chestnuts were swapped for truffles) and then a raw scallop in buttermilk, with mussels, sliced radish and autumn flowers set us up for the first main movement like overtures to the main act, a lobster anguillette with yellow wine sauce, smoked potatoes and cabbage. I had to pause just to take it in visually before scooping out the white lobster tail meat from the quartered shell (quartered lengthways). It was until now, the pinnacle of the evening.
But at this stage, the eighth course brought us into an exciting and spooky moment in which Passard becomes Satan's surgeon and creates his Frankenstein monster - a lamb pigeon chimera.
This extraordinary dish of rack of lamb fused to the front end of a wild pigeon was displayed and paraded proudly before being dissected into chops.
Disturbing perhaps, the dish nonetheless commanded applause each time it arrived at a table. Stevie Toman explained how the great man did it over a flame grill without recourse to oven or sous vide. Once we got over the visual shock we discovered an intensely flavourful, light and tender lamb perfectly pink and infused with the pigeon gaminess.
Ballylisk cheese, unnecessarily interfered with by some thin slices of truffles, brought us back to the surface, blinking and slightly shaken.
There then concluded two desserts: a sheep's yoghurt with blackberry, olive oil and the most fragile liquorice crisp. To top this, however, was a candied tomato with 12 flavours and ice cream. Here is tomato as dessert and even with onion, celery and other bits and pieces from the vegetable patch, it worked fantastically well.
Passard's return to Ox shows Stevie Toman and Alain Kerloc'h's intent: to continue pushing the boundaries, to keep creating exciting, entertaining and innovative new dishes using pure Irish produce. And, as Chef Passard strongly suggests, to get that second star.
£220 including all wines