Dining at Ox Eatery

by The Editor

It was one of those cooler Canberra evenings – the ones where glorious afternoon sun makes way for a suddenly chilly gloom. We made our way towards East Hotel on Giles Street in Griffith (well, technically – otherwise it’s between Kingston and Manuka).

For those who read our lightening review last week, you’ll have a general overview of the decor and initial experience of Ox Eatery. But what of the wining and dining experience of Ox Eatery? The reason one might venture Eastwards in the first place? Well, let’s just say it’s a pleasing one, if certainly a work in progress.

Unfortunately we realised we have forgotten the key ingredient to an evening at the Inner-South’s latest venue: a booking.

Fear not, for good things (may) come to those who wait. Entering Ox Eatery we found ourselves placed between the bar and the dining room, surrounded by a number of herbs growing in raised planter-boxes, and with a marvellous view of the expansive kitchen area. The maître d’ assured us of a table in half an hour – ample time to retire to the bar for a sneaky beer, and a quick examination of the early 30’s crowd.

Under-promising is a good thing – after twenty minutes we were seated and had lost not one drop of patience. Any doubt we may have had that Steve Rockmann was involved in this venue was erased when we saw the leather coated bench seating. They had Tongue and Groove written all over them and, anyway, Steve had just walked past us with a couple of laden plates.

“Let’s have a martini!” we declared, somewhat inevitably. The maître d’, another owner of the restaurant – Chris Hansen (well known for previous work at Chairman and Yip) took our order for a couple of dry gin martinis. This was the perfect way to settle into a menu that considers sharing a priority.

With drinks and dinner sorted from the specials board (a tasting plate named after a racehorse – apparently the theme changes daily) we settled in for the evening. Behind us, a whole pig slowly spun on a rotisserie, the rich smell filling up the restaurant. Suddenly, an incredibly cheery, young waitress appeared, displaying more bottled up energy than a recently shaken bottle of bubbly. “Can I get you guys anything?”

We smiled, not daring to dampen her enthusiasm. “If you could chase down our martinis that would be fantastic.”
“And anything to eat?” Every word seemed to have an upward inflection. It was quite adorable.
“We’ve ordered, thank you.” A smile dazzled us and she disappeared into the bar area with her mission set.

The tasting plate appeared out of nowhere, delivered with extreme efficiency by a waiter carrying other plates for other tables. Delicious long pieces of bread combined with haloumi, pate, pork crackling, olives and grilled chorizo. We can promise everything was delicious – especially the pork crackling which was the most wonderful indulgence you could imagine. A lovely touch was the pate, served in it’s own jar with a screw top lid. It matched the kitchen garden feel of the interior and enamelled water jugs. There are some truly lovely touches.

Before long Chris appeared with the martinis. “Here you go… one dry and one dirty martini.” Hmm… not quite. It seemed the bar – which had been a bit of a horror for an acquaintance the week previously – was still finding its feet. In fairness, the order was quickly remedied, and we were soon sipping a couple of very reasonable cocktails.

With the martinis dealt with, the tasting plate finished, we ordered a bottle of the 2011 Ravensworth Sangiovese (one of the smattering of locals wines on the menu) and waited for our serve of rotisserie pork shoulder to arrive. Served with a fresh green salad, this looked to us the epitome of what Ox Eatery is trying to achieve – big powerful flavours in a style meant to be indulged by all. And it achieved this, with succulent and tender slices of meat filling our bellies. However the rotisserie style will have to managed carefully. While our early evening meal was wonderful, a subsequent visit late evening visit resulted in slightly drier meat. Consistency will certainly be a challenge.

With no room for dessert it was time to make our way out of the still busy restaurant. Between the wine and the meat we felt completely bolstered against the chilly Spring air outside. We were more than satisfied by Ox Eatery, which does most things fantastically, while a few simple let-downs are glaring. One thing they have right is the price – everyone who has visited has commented on what a value for money proposition it is. Hopefully in the coming months the wrinkles will be smoothed out and the Inner South will have a unique and very well-priced dining experience.

God knows it needs it.