The opening of Ox and Finch in Glasgow is really exciting.
Of course, another good restaurant is always welcome, but I'm hopeful that its effect will be more profound than that. Ox and Finch is exactly the sort of restaurant that Glasgow needs. Maybe other restaurateurs will get the message and learn from it. Apart from The Gannet and Singl-End, Glasgow's recent openings have either been dully derivative, or gimmicky.
You can argue that a city gets the restaurants it deserves, and the near demise of fine dining in Glasgow suggests that formality, even an imagined whiff of ponciness, is a recipe for commercial death. Instead, we've been served up a bilious diet of reheated, reconstituted Americana fast food cliches, and my, how mind-numbingly boring that has become.
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Judging from its eating out culture, an outsider could be forgiven for concluding that a self-destructive attachment to life-shortening eating is embedded in the Glaswegian DNA. To my mind however, it's not so much customers who are the problem in Glasgow, but restaurateurs, essentially businessmen with limited culinary experience who don't take the bother to keep up with evolving cooking trends elsewhere. Now there's no excuse. In the Ox and Finch we have a polished model for thoughtfully-sourced, well-cooked, flexible, affordable food, and if my visit was anything to go by - diners were streaming in - it looks like being a rip-roaring success.
So what are the winning elements at Ox and Finch? Crucially, you clearly have chefs with sound professional training, so although the food is relatively casual, it is never sloppy. Ingredients are thoughtfully chosen - from named suppliers, strongly seasonal, gastronomically literate, strong in the horticultural department - but none of this is thrust in your face or self-congratulatory right on. The menu is liberatingly elastic, a series of small plates (not that small by my standards) and winningly cheap: £3-9. Last but not least, these are great premises in an excellent location. An airy corner site, with generous windows, it has been restored to just the right point. You can still sense its history, the mood of the Victorian shop - or was it a pub? - that once was there. Anything good that remains has been cherished - a dark wood floor with aged patina, sandstone and weathered brick walls - but this is no National Trust Farrow and Ball theme park.
The menu reads well and tastes even better. The pairing of seared scallops with the melting, aromatic fatty presence of lardo di Colonnata was patently a nice idea, but what I wasn't prepared for was the sharp tang (of sherry vinegar perhaps?) that electrified the accompanying cauliflower puree. Ox and Finch is like this, injecting judicious flavour accents here and there throughout a dish that kick it up into a higher league. Broad bean, pea, courgette and orzo could have been dull had the quantity of pasta outweighed the vegetables. Instead it acted merely as a supporting act for abundant podded and skinned broad beans, new-season peas, al dente ribbons of courgette, and the aroma of fresh mint.
And so the catalogue of lovely ingredients, immaculately cooked, continued: sweet, juicy British asparagus teamed up with crisper-then-crisp pancetta and immaculate poached egg; grilled baby gem lettuce with a barnstorming caesar dressing; fondant ox cheek with soul-caressing umami meatiness; floury chips, dusted with truffle salt, for dipping into a suave, restrained roasted garlic aioli; a neat, crusty confit of free range chicken leg as pretty as a tarte tatin on a glistening gravy with peas, broad beans, and chanterelles.
Ox and Finch is no slouch in the pastry department either. I love anywhere that serves me a still-warm, baked-to-order cherry clafoutis with properly made ice cream dark with vanilla grains, or, for that matter, a dark chocolate cremeux with shy, unpushy banana ice cream, generously flanked by caramelised, toasted, cracked hazelnuts.
In Ox and Finch we have a restaurant with confidence, both in its own cooking, and in Glasgow's ability to appreciate it. A restaurant that talks up to its customers, not down.