During a mini-break in Cheltenham and as part of a birthday treat for my fiancé aka Mr R, the two of us found ourselves on the mooch for some dinner. Having neglected to pre-book anywhere and following an afternoon of celebratory fizz and cocktails we were at a bit of a loss as to where to go for food. In our current state we didn’t feel that we were up to fine dining which crossed a few places off the list that we’d been hoping to try. Instead we were looking for somewhere we could just turn up, get fed and feel comfortable.
I’d remembered reading a review about The Ox by one of my favourite Cheltenham bloggers Lucienne Thompson, and as we were already walking in that direction we thought we’d try our luck at getting a table without a reservation. On arrival another 2 people were in front of us and we followed them down the steps. The 2 ladies explained that they didn’t have a booking, and despite the restaurant being seemingly quite full the staff quickly found them a table. We were next and were also seen to straight away by another staff member, who seated us at the bar whilst he found us a spot towards the back of the room and left us with some menus.
It was immediately obvious that The Ox specialises in steak. Yeah, of course I already knew that, and although it’d be rare (excuse the pun) for me to order steak in a restaurant I figured there would be some other choices that would appeal – I was right. Mr R on the other hand would happily eat steak every day if he could, so he was pretty happy. We ordered a bottle of Malbec as you do in these places, and then switched tables as a more cosy one in the corner became available and was offered to us. The room is underground in the city centre with a dark, romantic Bistro feel to it. The décor also British, compliments the food offer, as well as the Ox’s claim to serve one of the best Sunday roasts in Cheltenham – you can’t get more British than that.
To start Mr R chose the chargrilled squid (£9.50), a simple but fresh plate flavoured with chilli, garlic and rosemary. I went with the charcoal roasted mushrooms which were absolutely fantastic. The mushrooms were thick, meaty and juicy and almost tasted of steak. They were heavily seasoned and the portion was more than ample. I’d order them again in a heartbeat.
The Ox buys in its meat from Buxton Butchers in Winterbourne, and pride themselves on serving ethically reared and the best quality meat they believe they can find. The meat is dry aged for at least 35 days and cooked in-house using their charcoal fired Josper oven, which in basic terms means it’s a very good indoor barbeque grill. As predicted Mr R was up for a steak, but as we’d had a big lunch that day he opted for the smaller 6oz D rump (£12.50). Sides, butter and sauces are extra, and despite being very tempted by the mac n’ cheese, he settled on just a side of fries (£3.50) to go with his steak (sorry, no photo). The verdict was that it was a great steak. Maybe not the best he’d ever eaten, but the excellent quality meat cooked on a good piece of equipment was not lost.
As with the starters I did very well with ordering the right thing as I fancied giving the cheese burger a try. The Ox double cheese burger (£15) was outstanding. I thought I might find the double patties a bit hard going, but they were cooked beautifully by the Josper oven and kept simple with lots of melty cheese and slices of pickle. The skin-on fries were also great and I thoroughly enjoyed the burger. Unlike other reviews we’d read, we actually didn’t think that the steak was the best thing about The Ox. Although cooked to your liking and a very good quality piece of meat, the most memorable of our choices were the roasted mushrooms and the cheeseburger. I fully intend to go back to The Ox, but although good, not for the steak. I love the sound of the hickory smoked ribs, pan-fried cod and I’d happily work my way through the sides. For me, The Ox is more than just steak!
Cost: £47 (food only)
2 starters, 2 mains, 1 side
Cheltenham, United Kingdom – last visited in April 2018
Food hygiene rating – good 4/5 – date of last inspection 20th July 2017