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OX184, Edinburgh, restaurant review

The Cowgate's latest addition, compete with open wood-fired grill, is not all smoke and mirrors, writes Gaby Soutar

Published: April 18, 2015

The last time you could smell smoke in the Cowgate was for a bad reason – when popular venue La Belle Angele burnt down back in 2002.
Now there’s a more positive waft, thanks to new bar and restaurant OX184, whose USP is an open wood fired grill.
Owned by Fuller Thomson of Holyrood 9a, Red Squirrel and other venues in Edinburgh and Dundee, it’s moved into the former premises of the less than salubrious dives that were Capital nightclub and Siglo. Before that it was one of my regulars, The Green Tree, which was steam-rollered, beer garden and all, to make room for a very square and ugly Nineties building that is the colour of a wasp’s bike.
It may be grim from the outside, but the new interior is kind of exciting.
They’ve opened out the space so it feels like a barn, with red lighting and a flickering brazier surrounded by piles of logs. It’s a look that’s one part medieval, two parts urban woodsman with a finger of US hoedown.
And that smell, which beckons like Bisto. It’s emanating from the kitchen upstairs, where we have commandeered a booth.
Pre-eats, mention must be made of the drinks menu. It boasts beer on tap from Tempest brewery, there is craft beer by the can, interesting-sounding cocktails, whisky and whiskey, pitchers and vino available in four sizes of snifter.
To line one’s stomach – cave-person food. We went for three Bites.
The madeleine-shaped spiced quinoa fritters (£3.50) were reminiscent of white pudding and were as meatily textured as a vegetarian option can be, with an outer crackly shell courtesy of the burnished quinoa and a blob of mayo on the side.
Their smoking piglets (£4.50) consisted of a pot of glistening chipolatas, each with a thick-cut downy quilt of blackened bacon. These were as smoky as 20 Lambert & Butler (and extremely salty).
Our shrimp and lobster sliders (£5.50) were a little underwhelming. They came as two polished brioche buns, each filled with a bit of lettuce and a thin sort of Marie Rose mixture, occasionally studded with a prawn.

Its look is one part medieval,
two parts urban woodsman with a finger of US hoedown

In contrast, mains would put hairs on anyone’s chest. The house sausage (£7) was the dimension of a Victorian policeman’s truncheon, with a thick charred casing after a decent spell on the BBQ. Its coarsely meaty innards were reminiscent of a South African boerewors, rather than your bog standard spongy supermarket banger. Good, but it would be hard to work your way through without the moisture provided by a side order of burnt end beans (£3). Served in a mini metal cauldron, these consisted of kidney beans and knobs of pork in a barbecue style sauce, for a Brokeback Mountain-style treat.
Our other option was the limousin beef brisket (£12) with three slabs of charcoal encrusted and fibrous cow, each anointed with a dark sticky sauce.
As sides, we’d gone for the slightly acrid tasting charred corn (£3) and a huge stack of skinny skin-on seasoned home fries (£2).
At this point, I needed a lie down, but we soldiered on. Served in a jam-jar, the OX184 smoked banoffee (£4.50) was a mixture of oddly smoky toffee sauce, sliced banana, bits of brownie and whipped cream. We didn’t taste any peanut butter in the peanut butter and jelly sundae (£4.50), only claggy fudge sauce, more squirty cream, dragon’s blood and – “why are there so many bits of bread in this?” – nuggets of brioche.
Both were easy things for a kitchen to knock up. Not that exciting for us.
So back to the booze. I was given wings thanks to the fine Aviator cocktail (£7.50), with Caorunn gin, Briottet Maraschino, Briottet Violette and citrus, while my other half enjoyed his tinny of Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils (£4.80).
With drinks clutched in paws that smelt of chips and chipolatas, it was easy to linger here.
In fact, we felt as if they’d have to smoke us out – and OX184 could be the only place in town where that could literally happen.

Dinner for two, excluding drinks,

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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