Ox Club, Leeds

The smart, modern eatery that's leading the pack, Ox Club is the newest addition to the line-up at Leeds's Headrow House

Review by Lauren Phillips | 14 Jan 2016

The Northwest’s food scene is a serious beast. You know, The Skinny knows it, the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin knew it when she named six of the region's restaurants in her UK Top 50.

Another major giveaway is the recent influx of London exports. Hawksmoor, Byron, Wahaca and Comptoir Libanais are all big-hitters that made their first openings beyond the M25 in the Northwest before anywhere else. Trends, too, have trickled their way up, with Nordic small plates and craft beer pubs slowly edging out the dirty food and tiki bars of seasons past.

What the Northwest still lacks, however, is the so-called ‘destination’ venue – a smart, mixed-use space where you can meet, eat, drink, dance and then fall asleep afterwards. In London, these places usually come with a membership fee and a dickhead surplus, but at a time when trudging across town and hopping from bar to bar seems intensely undesirable, they're actually pretty great. The likes of Ace Hotel and Soho House have got the model down, so when’s it our turn?

Soon, apparently. Showing Liverpool and Manchester how it's done, Headrow House in Leeds is the (kind of) new concept from the team behind Belgrave Music Hall, and offers the style and convenience of the above, minus the monthly subscription. It's a big ol’ textile mill that was previously home to local institutions Big Lil’s Saloon Bar and Spooks, but after a generous renovation it's been transformed into something modern, relevant and very, very cool. Four floors play host to a beer hall, stocked with over 60 international beers and the first Pilsner Urquell tank outside of London (see!), a 200-capacity event space and Redondo Beach, a slick, neon-lit cocktail bar straight out of Miami Vice.

So far, so sexy, but like we always say, we're here for the food. Located on the ground floor, just off the cobbled courtyard, is the (actually new) Ox Club. It's led by former Dough Boys and Fu-Schnikens mastermind Ben Davy, who dreamt up the concept after road-tripping across the US. It was there that he discovered the Grillworks solid fuel grill and the joys of cooking over wood and charcoal. He shipped one to the UK (it's one of only three in the country) and thus, Ox Club was born.

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It's easy to hear the word 'grill' and assume this place is just another American steakhouse wannabe. In reality, what it offers is a thoughtful, considered menu of small plates and wood-grilled mains. Unsurprisingly, the ox cheek is a particular high note, served with a sweet bacon jam and flageolet beans. The smokiness of the charcoal really comes into its own here, and you understand what the chef means when he says that this is a new way of cooking. The cod, too, has a subtle smoky flavour and comes with perfectly complementary Jerusalem artichokes.

And the sides, oh, the sides. Brussels sprouts with bacon and cured egg yolk? Yes! Veg of the moment, roast cauliflower, with Romesco sauce and almonds? Hit me! Old favourite kale, given a new lease of life with raisins and spiced cider? More! Desserts are equally appealing. A modest slice of lemon tart has a neat, short crust and a palate-cleansing zing. Their take on pumpkin pie feels suitably festive and nods to the menu’s American influence in just the right way.

The intimate setting, white-tiled walls and washed-wood tables lend the Ox Club the cosy, Scandinavian feel you might find in Stockholm or Copenhagen. The service is excellent, with our young clued-up server always on hand to answer questions and recommend favourites. The place feels like a treat, but is still relaxed and easygoing, with tables of friends sharing beers and snacks alongside young couples on date night. Well worth a trip over the Pennines.

If you liked Ox Club, try:

The Reliance, Leeds
Trove, Manchester
Hanover Street Social, Liverpool

Ox Club, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5RG http://oxclub.co.uk