I’ve often wished that the Red Ox Inn was situated in my neighbourhood. The tiny gem of a restaurant in the Strathearn community has always filled me with enough goodness during my visits to plant seeds for my next visit. I suppose I could always move there one day, but I quite like my hood. Located in an aging strip mall, a skip from Connor’s Road, we stepped out of the cold and into a rather quiet dining room.
What energy was clearly zapped by the winter conditions came rushing back when a young man walked cautiously into the restaurant and proposed to his surprised girlfriend. She said yes for the record. Or more specifically, “of course I will”. As the happy couple sipped prosecco, we looked over the simple and straight forward menu and shared small talk with our table neighbours about the day.
We learned that a few items had changed from the menu in front of us. The halibut dish was now monkfish and the pork dish was totally revamped. Gone was the bacon wrapped loin, replaced with a sous-vide option. I’m a big fan of the Beef Tartare here so that was an easier selection to make. We also added an order of Sweetbreads for a daily kick of heart clogging cholesterol.
As we had mentioned we would be sharing the dishes, they provided us with individual portions of tartare to start. A beautiful and often overlooked touch. The tartare here is meaty, fresh, and damn right delicious. The sweetbreads arrived after finishing our raw plate and looked more like a savory dessert than appetizer. The sweetbreads were a great contrast of crispy exterior and soft interior. The addition of mushroom chips, chestnut puree and walnuts added a lovely texture and flavour profile to the plate.
Our mains included Monkfish – Quinoa, Scallions, Fennel, Salsa Verde – and Pheasant – Ancho Romesco, Sweet Thyme Brine, Scallion, Watercress, Pecorino. Both dishes were plated beautifully. The proteins were cooked very well, as was the quinoa and grits that sat below. The most interesting part of this meal was that we both shared a general feeling of blah as we neared our final bites. We both felt a simpler approach to the overall creation would have made a more appealing final taste. It’s almost hard for me to say this, but I honestly can’t think of the last meal I had where I was happy to have finally finished the last bite.
If the night started on a high before heading south with the mains, it finished with a bang at dessert. The Dark Gingerbread Cake – Eggnog ice cream, meringue, “Caramel” – was divine. Rich, moist, and perfectly portioned. The eggnog ice cream, caramel and well placed meringue made this a perfect seasonal treat. I know many locals probably miss the Red Ox bread pudding, but do yourself a favor and just indulge in this holiday goodness.
All in all, the evening wasn’t as good as it has been in the past. The lack of punch in our mains definitely detracted from the evening, but it wouldn’t stop me from returning. Maybe I’ll just wait a few more months. Add in the excitement of a wedding proposal though and it made for a memorable night….If only they could stop that cold, cold breeze that crawls in the front door during winter.