1 Oxford Street Belfast BT1 3LA
There's been quite a buzz around Ox since it arrived on the Belfast restaurant scene last year. Much of the excitement was due to its backers; the former manager of Deanes and former head chef of James Street South, two of Belfast's most reputable eateries. From the outside it's fairly unassuming, and even a little austere, while inside the furnishings are modest and simple but the welcome is very warm. A table by the window offers a bird's eye view of one of the city's most photographed landmarks, the Beacon of Hope (or as she's more affectionately known by locals, Nuala with the Hula) overlooking the Lagan Weir. The menu is as complex as we've come to expect in these sort of places, with ingredients often running onto two lines, but it's also nicely reined in at just half a dozen main courses and starters, and the staff are friendly and on hand to guide you through the options – plus the food itself is simple and honest, with a perfect fusion of flavours. Main courses are hearty, with an array of fish dishes, game and vegetarian options on offer (think chateauubriand, pigeon, bouillabaisse, or ricotta gnocchi), each cooked with precision and presented with creativity and flair. The portions are just the right size, allowing room for a seasonal dessert or a cheese board sourced from local producers and packed with flavour. Prices are high, but the short lunch menu is much cheaper and great value, and for once the buzz is well deserved. For that special occasion it's definitely worth pushing the boat out for an evening at Ox.