A version of this article is published by The Financial Times.
Our visits to Glasgow always put my sister on her mettle. A keen cook and restaurant goer, she has acted as my primary source of information on this city’s rapidly changing and improving food scene ever since she moved there 20 years ago. No sooner had we announced our next visit than she responded that she would book a table at the Ox and Finch.
It was just as well that we gave her plenty of warning as this restaurant that was opened over two years ago by chef Jon MacDonald has proved extremely popular. This is due in part to its location, a large corner site with windows on two sides overlooking characterful Saucihall Street; its clever transformation from the long established Greek Konaki Taverna; and its reliance on sharing plates, or tapas style service, for its menu.
This certainly has won over many of its fans and regulars. It allows the chefs and the management to present the menu attractively as a paper place mat, a menu that certainly seduces any first time visitors with its immediately fascinating combinations.
Everything is on show from snacks to desserts; sections headed raw, cured and cold, seafood, meat and vegetables; enticing items such as ptitim, a moreish type of pasta developed in Israel in the 1950s when rice was scarce and here served with tahini yoghurt, pomegranate and rose harissa alongside a confited shoulder of hogget; as well as the outline of a charging bull at the bottom that is the restaurant’s logo.
But if this is all so enticing, and we could have ordered virtually all the dishes on the menu, why was there ultimately a sense of disappointment about the meal? Was it simply because our table of six was not guided properly by our charming but relatively inexperienced waitress? Was it because the dishes on offer are aimed at tables of two or four? We certainly seemed to order enough food and wine – my bill came to £200 including a bottle each of Ruca Malén Petit Verdot 2012 from Argentina and Côtes du Rhône from Vignobles Gonnet as well as a dealcoholized bottle of beer, Brewdog’s Nanny State. But we only really found satisfaction when our desserts – which we had ordered and were served individually – were delivered.
And it all began so thoughtfully although in retrospect this was fortunate. I ordered a serving of the toasted sourdough with two spreads each, sobrassada, the very porky sausage that is originally from the Balearic Islands and the other with romesco, that classic combination of roasted red peppers, almonds and olive oil that has its origins in Tarragona, north east Spain. Both were pungent and served with three pieces of sourdough each that meant one for each of us.
But the serving of the appetising hummus that I ordered as well should have come as a warning. It was served on a plate with crudities, dukkah, the Egyptian spicy dip and e.v.o.o. (extra virgin olive oil) and was good but not an easy dish to share among six hungry diners.
This was an issue that was common to several of our first dishes, that were simply too small to be shared equally. Into this category fell a plate of buffalo mozzarella with nectarines and prosciutto; a couple of slices of beetroot-cured salmon with wasabi; a piece of sea trout paired with a small Caesar salad and smoked bacon; and, from the meat section, the lamb merguez meatballs with baba ganoush and chickpeas; and a couple of well cooked pieces of pork belly, served with a shaved radish salad and pureed sweetcorn. All were good, well as much as I ate of them. Better was a crab and crayfish cocktail, served in a crab shell, whose flavours were definitely enhanced by the presence of avocado, pomelo and chilli and was big enough for each of us to get a proper spoonful. At £8.50 this was the most expensive of the first courses but undoubtedly the best.
That is until the desserts arrived – a pineapple carpaccio with coconut ice cream, a raspberry mille feuille with olive oil mascarpone, a plate of three cheeses from the local cheesemonger, George Mewes, and a deconstructed strawberry eton mess. These were all very good and provided an appetising finale.
Menus such as here at the Ox and Finch have become increasingly popular as chefs have increasingly had their say. They do allow a greater choice for the customer but they are easier to manage from the kitchen – hence the depressing but invariably associated comment that ‘the food will be served when it is ready’. Surely the customer should dictate the pace at which he, or she, wants to eat? And surely a kitchen that is capable of such distinction on a small scale should be able to offer them in larger formats?
And there were several dishes on this menu, most of the seafood and meat dishes, which could have been served in larger quantities, as larger plates, that would easily have satisfied our table.
The food, wine and service at the Ox and Finch are good. But better still if you go as a table of two or four rather than anything larger.
The Ox and Finch 920 Sauciehall Street, Glasgow G3 7TF
0141 339 8627 www.oxandfinch.com