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REVIEW: The Oxnoble | Castlefield

Neil Sowerby on an Ox that lacks cheek

Written by . Published on December 15th 2014.

REVIEW: The Oxnoble | Castlefield

IT WAS a week of eating gloriously. If the truffle risotto served out of a hollowed-out whole Parmesan at the San Carlo Fumo launch was the undoubted star, other less glitzy foodie treats delighted – and both involved ox cheek.

So this establishment does what it does. It’s an affordable haven in a city where dining prices are creeping up.

Volta in West Didsbury came up with a toothsome tangle of the humble cut that had been braised with star anise and orange zest before being plumped on a cushion of fluffy mash and served to me for a bargain £8. Over in Leeds, British Street Food Award overall winners Fu-Schnikens composed for £3.50 a handmade Taiwanese steamed bun called Guo Bao, packed with sticky soy ox cheek, pickled beetroot, palm sugar, chives and sesame. Amazing.

Can you see an ox thing developing here? The last time I ate in The Oxnoble, on the cusp of Castlefield, an excellent young chef called Richatrd  Davies was lifting the pub kitchen’s game with some rather special specials, featuring rabbit, venison and a braised ox cheek stew with dumplings which I still recall with affection. Perhaps fate was calling me back to lend a certain symmetry to the Week of the Ox.

The Oxnoble, Liverpool RoadThe Oxnoble, Liverpool Road

Oxnoble barOxnoble bar

So it’s time again to get the pub’s name out of the way. Despite the pictures of big bullocks inside and a brief rebranding to become The Ox, the origins of its name are far from bovine. It is named after a variety of potato, for as far back as 1804 spuds were shipped in along the nearby canal. It now calls itself, rather grandly, The Oxnoble at Potato Wharf.

We chose a Sunday lunchtime to return. Mistake. Limited menu, roasts to the fore, but we lived in hope of a specials board. Disappointment, but then we asked to look at the regular weekday menus and it looked unambitious for a place still advertising itself above the bar as ‘award-winning gastropub’. Davies is long departed.

Still, three courses from the Sunday menu, available from 12 noon until 7.30, would only set us back £17.95 and with a concert to go to afterwards we resisted ordering wine from a modest (and modestly priced) list. So it was two pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord from a limited cask range. JW Lees’ MPA was on the next pump but that would have been a last resort. For reference, my ox cheek at Volta came with a pint of Wild Beard Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Stout, which matched it perfectly. 

Smoked salmon and king prawn mousseSmoked salmon and king prawn mousse

Ox 3Crispy fried mozzarella

My wife’s starter was a smoked salmon and king prawn mousse, which was more fibrous than smooth and the accompanying dill creme fraiche fought a losing battle against a strong smokiness. My crispy fried mozzarella was a stringy fritter sitting on tomato and fig salad, where the fig found a companion in a sprinkle of balsamic syrup, but the taste-free tomato wedges I had to spurn.

Redemption came in the form of the Rare Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding. After helping Confidential muster together their Best of Manchester’s Sunday Roasts I planned to give flesh on the Sabbath a rest until well into 2015, but my wife had chosen the pan-fried sea bass with lemon mash and more balsamic dressing (main image), so beef it was, which was splendid. Not quite my idea of rare but getting there and my prayer for a big tub of horseradish was answered by our server, who also brought over a truck load of al dente veg to bolster my mash, roasties and large, fluffy Yorkshire pud. This really is worth a place on any Best Sunday Roast in Manchester roster (so it shall be added - Ed.)

Sunday beef roastSunday beef roast

Ox 7Raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake

To follow, my apple and blackberry crumble lacked crusty crumble but was soothingly nursery. Raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake across the table also met with approval.

So this establishment does what it does. It’s an affordable haven in a city where dining prices are creeping up. You can drink here without thinking you are intruding on any restaurant priority, you can take the kids in after a visit to the MOSI across the road, you can even stay here at bargain prices – there are 10 rooms starting at £35 a night.

But ultimately, in a competitive market for casual dining the Oxnoble is without any bullish wow factor... and nowadays it lacks cheek.

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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship.

The Oxnoble, 71 Liverpool Road, Manchester, M3 4NQ.

0161 839 7760.

Rating: 12/20

Food: 6/10 (fish mousse 5, crispy mozzarella 3, roast beef 8, pan-fried seabass 6, crumble 6, cheesecake 6)
Service: 3/5
Ambience: 3/5

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

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big earsDecember 15th 2014.

Head Chef was Richard Davies - now with Brunning and Price

JimDecember 16th 2014.

Went for drinks on Friday night and was very impressed with the pub. I didn't eat but saw the food and thought it looked very good. Seems a nice looking gastro pub.

Michael Dell'ArmiDecember 17th 2014.

Are you doing reviews based on one visit now?

Michael Dell'ArmiDecember 17th 2014.

I love the pub, not eaten for a while..might go Sunday now!

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