The word casual didn’t quite sum it up when we came on a Saturday afternoon though. The front part was rammed with boisterous football fans who’d stopped in for a beer on their way home from the match and was noisy and bustling. This could easily put somebody off who’d stepping in from the street expecting a quaint pub lunch. But if you pass through this, there is a section marked off for dining which is much calmer. This divide between the two parts almost works, though during our meal shouting did keep spilling over and it never felt completely relaxed.
The Ox has a £10 two course menu with an range of appetising sounding pub dishes – pies, steaks, and fish. Wanting something a bit fancier though, we ordered from the other gastro menu with mains at around £15 to £20.
My starter of black pudding potato cake had light potato puree inside with a softness contrasting nicely with the crisp shell of breadcrumbs around. Little specks of black pudding in the potato filling added an earthiness to its taste. The accompanying poached egg oozed out golden sauce that was perfect to eat with the potato.
I ordered roe deer for the main, interested to try this meat. The small slices, brown round their edges and pinkish in the middle, didn’t disappoint. They were wonderfully meltingly soft in a way I’d normally only expect from the highest grade of beef. They had perhaps a slightly more gamey flavour than beef’s subtleness, but were very smooth to eat – without any of the slight graininess of fibrousness that meat can have.
The accompanying beetroot gratin was also good. The thin layers of gratin, though tasting surprisingly similar to their potato equivalent, had an extra fruitiness, sweetness and softness that made them feel rich in flavor.
Generally the vegetables accompanying our dishes were interesting. The fish came with rosti which instead of normal potatoes’ softer flavor was made from sweet potato which had a brasher taste and texture which helped it nicely offset the creaminess of the fish and it’s sauce. My only complaint was that the patty of potato strands, which should be lightly browned by frying, was slightly over fried so a few pieces were a little blacker.
I also felt that the pork belly one of my fellow diners had wasn’t quite as meltingly soft as it can sometimes be with really slow cooking. But it was better than many I’ve had too, and these are minor niggles in what were otherwise some really well prepared dishes. They all endeavored to do something a little bit more interesting and generally succeeded in pulling this off, justifying The Ox’s claim to be a gastro pub more than many do.
If you’re looking for a place to get some stimulating food in a very informal setting, then you could do a lot worse than coming here.
Liverpool Road, Castlefield. Manchester M3 4NQ
0161 839 7740