Food: 9 Drink: 8.5 Atmosphere: 8 Overall: 8.5
The Ox, located in the basement of the city’s Commercial Rooms on Corn Street, is one of the few promises the street has left to offer. The surrounding heritage buildings of the old city have been left to house the inescapable sights of Pizza Express, Café Nero and Wetherspoons - making it all too easy for diners to fall into the safe, familiar hands of a chain restaurant. I encourage you to dismiss all these opportunities, despite the allure of a 2 for 1, and entice your taste buds at this charming independent eatery - run by a coterie of Bristolians who know more than a thing or two about good food.
The clue to the cuisine is in the name, referring to its strong-willed focus on prime fine steaks and cured meaty morsels. On their website, they’ve ambitiously titled themselves ‘the best steak and cocktail restaurant in Bristol’, serving top-notch British fayre cooked to impeccable standards. You may think, then, that vegetarians are mindless if they agree to go - even more so for booking. Still, I upheld faith in The Ox, hoping that their attention to beef and pork would transcend through to their meat-free crafts.
The Ox’s atmosphere is assuredly enchanting. The low curved ceiling presents the allure of Bristol’s best kept secret - a former bank vault and alleged wartime bunker - spreading its luxurious appeal with deep red walls, smart mahogany and teasingly low lighting. You’d assume, given its ‘meat, meat, and more meat’ mantra, that the walls would be filled with testosterone and loud chomping. In reality, they couldn’t be further from it: the music was jazzy, soulful and stayed on a low hum, establishing a sophisticated mood followed by sophisticated conversation. The place is undeniably tailored for a ‘date night’; both rooms were full of couples snapping pictures of their dates either holding up glasses of red or gnawing on big sticks of meat.
The meat to veg ratio is inevitably imbalanced, but what do you expect from a steakhouse? Two out of eight starters are meat-free, with a showcase of only one veggie main in the form of a mushroom risotto. All sides contain no meat, however, and are pretty impressive too: deep fried sprouts with Thai dressing, charcoal roasted mushrooms with persillade, triple cooked chips and mac & cheese.
Anyhow, enough about sides and starters, and onto the real stars of the show. Meat-motivated diners may take their pick from rump, rib-eye, sirloin, fillet, t-bone, bone in rib - you name it, it’s all here. In true Bristol fashion, all ingredients are locally sourced and are of the highest quality; with steaks, dry-aged for 35 days, cooked on a charcoal fired oven to seal the flavour. An impressively meaty man vs food for two (£45pp) is also up for grabs: Ox cured meat board to start, (think salami, lomo, pork & pistachio terrine, pork rillettes), a 30oz Bone in Rib to share with triple cooked chips, sauce and greens, finishing with a bang with the ice-cream sharing board.
For drinks, after reading the words ‘dark, intense, powerful but elegant’, we agreed on a bottle of Malbec - a rare occasion fit for celebration. My company deemed it necessary to tenderly swirl the glass, examine the density and inhale the aroma, which of course was followed with a ‘yes, that’s perfect’.
The fired, roasted and toasted method is indeed a running theme, reaffirmed by my choice of starter: roasted cauliflower, lemon yoghurt and dukka. This starter, though unabashedly small, provided more depth and excitement than my main of dukka sweet potato over at the highly-esteemed Ivy in Clifton Village. The meat-eater similarly enjoyed his starter of pork & pistachio terrine with tomato chutney and sourdough – I too relished the remaining scraps of chutney and sourdough crusts.
When deciding on mains, I was easily convinced by the sound of the vegetarian option: smoked mushroom risotto with cavalo nero and poached egg. A deep, dark brown pool of smoky flavour and soft, creamy texture rendered it a true champion of comfort. Also, for those of you who appreciate fried or poached eggs for toppings - this is undeniably a dish for the bucket list. After scraping the plate clean, I was assuredly and rightfully won over. I can also confirm from my fellow diner that the steak - the 10.5 oz rib-eye - was as delicious as expected, even more so when drizzled over with a fresh serving of chimichurri sauce.
My penchant for burnt vegetables was reawakened by the insane force of the deep-fried sprout side, unyieldingly drenched in a sickly-sweet Thai dressing (if only I made the rational decision to pour the remnants into my bag for later). The chips, however, weren’t anything special, and a little underwhelming considering the strength of their accomplice. The devilish desserts sounded truly great, (think vanilla and chocolate bread pudding, dark chocolate cremeux with white chocolate mousse and cherry jam), yet both of us were left with little room to accept. Instead, we finished the night with cocktails at The Milk Thistle, a glamorous speak-easy ran by the team behind The Ox only a few doors down.
With the quality high, the prices aren’t low – the smallest rump, weighing in at 6oz, priced at £12.50, and the 12oz Sirloin coming in at £27 (with obligatory chips costing extra). Would you really feel comfortable, however, paying less than a tenner for a good steak? Good meat should never come cheap, so it’s probably best to leave the masters to it.
Seeing as it serves carnivorism at its best, the herbivores among us may feel safer skipping out on The Ox. I enjoyed my meal a great deal, though there’s only two dishes left to try – the mushroom on toast starter and the side of leeks & greens – so it’s probably best knocking on the door of every veggie’s paradise, 1847, (see: http://www.intermissionbristol.co.uk/foodanddrink/2018/2/4/1987?rq=1847) located only a street away. However, if the sound of dry-aged, top-quality beef and pork is more up your street, then what are you waiting for? The notable bastion of meat that is The Ox awaits your arrival.