“It was only going to be a little project, and it’s kinda just run away with itself.” The Ox Club’s Development Chef, Ben Davy, is firing on all cylinders, and showing how a little hunger can go a very long way. He shares his story so far.
“It starts because you want to eat something you can’t find. So you cook it yourself. We set up Dough Boys because no one in Leeds was doing authentic Neapolitan pizza by the slice, so it seemed like a good idea. And Belgrave (the city’s astute music venue, run by Simon Stevens and Ash Kollakowski, with Davy adding the flavour) was the perfect environment to try new things out without it being a disaster if it didn’t work.
The original Dough Boys menu was written two weeks before we opened Belgrave. I had no pizza kitchen to test anything in. We installed the oven two hours before we opened.
We were doing well at festivals – especially Beacons – so we knew we had a product people loved. But it came from our desire to
try things. If it excites us, we’ll give it a go. That was the culture at Belgrave – we did a ramen thing, and people loved it. We started our burger bar, Patty Smith’s, because who doesn’t love a good burger? See also our foray into Taiwanese, Fu-Schnickens. Winning the Street Food Awards gave us the confirmation that we needed to push forward with more ambitious plans.
Everything I do, I do because I want it to be the best it can be. That’s just the way I am. When I started in the business I was washing dishes. But I wanted to be the best kitchen porter I could be. Same when I was putting salad on plates, it had to be the best garnish in the city.
I always wanted my own place, and we’d been talking about Headrow House for a while. But we know its history, and we knew it would be a challenge to bring it back to life. But we loved the building. And the Ox Club sits perfectly within it. It’s a nice size, 40 covers or so.
Unlike our other ventures, this is our first full service restaurant. It’s the culmination of everything we’ve learned, and of everything we love. We saw the Grillworks grill on holiday in Portland, and knew we had to have one. It’s one of only three in the country, and it produces a depth of flavour you simply can’t get on a conventional kit. It only burns solid fuel – so it burns charcoal and a little wood for flavour. We’re trying pear out at the moment, it’s sweet and fruity.
I’m still learning all the interesting things you can do with the grill. Yes, the steaks are amazing, but you have to try our cauliflower, beetroot, grilled pumpkin pie, and our salt beef cooked low and slow in the embers overnight. We make the most out of every ounce of heat, and every cut of meat. We’ll grill guinea fowls whole, make a stock out of the carcass, or use the wings and legs for starters.
We source our meat from R&J over in Ripon, and our fruit and veg from Delifresh who work with small farms around Yorkshire. The kale is amazing.
Everyone is really keen to try new things here. People want to taste new stuff. There’s an appetite for experimentation that really
nurtures new talent. You get the feeling that the city really wants you to succeed. The result is that it inspires you to really think further outside the box.
We had no idea if this would work, and if people would eat this way – it’s a very Argentinian style of dining. No standing on ceremony. It’s about reaching over and trying what your mates are having.
It’s a small room, you can see everything that’s going on in the kitchen. It’s great to see the grill being used, the chefs playing around with stuff, to feel like you’re a part of something different.
Next up? We want to revisit our ramen thing. Ben, our head chef, spent ten years in Japan, so watch this space. We’re talking about a second Dough Boys site in Leeds, and one in Manchester. It’s not hard to get things right. If you love what you do, it’s fun. We’ve got the best team. And we’re in a city where, suddenly, amazing things are happening – look at Grub and Grog, The Brunswick, Bundobust and Laynes Espresso – people doing what they love, just brilliantly. It’s a great place to be.”
Ox Club, Headrow House, Bramleys Yard, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 6PU.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
We sent Leeds correspondent Miz DeShannon along to pick a few stand outs.
Taking North American, Spanish and Argentinian cooking traditions and putting them to work on good Yorkshire produce, in a Scandinavian-style space (well-designed, minimalist, wood furniture), the Ox Club showcases the brave new world of cooking, Leeds style. Everything on the menu is designed to share. Not in a tapas way, but by mixing up the interesting combinations of dishes the menu offers. Here are just some of the Ox Club’s menu highlights:
Cherry wood smoked trout & whisky cured salmon with horseradish, beetroot and apple. Fusing strong, earthy smoked and cured fish with a lively horseradish beet and apple dressing shows a kitchen that really gets flavours.
Burratina & smoked mozzarella with fennel, lemon and black pepper oozes with deliciousness. A delicate smoky flavour lets you know – they’re really using that charcoal well.
Roasted cauliflower – a blackened floret of cauli, served with a romesco sauce. It doesn’t sound like much, but this humble little side dish has received a lot of attention. The alchemy that happens when flame and wood smoke transforms simple ingredients.
Hanger steak, charred on the outside, and blush pink inside, served with salsa verde, is sensational. Oh, and the home cooked sea-salt chips that go with it. Don’t forget them.
The pumpkin pie is a stand out dessert. Like an American twist on a Christmas pudding – stodge free, and refreshingly unlike any pumpkin pie we’ve ever tasted. Or any pie, come to that. A hat tip to the grill’s homeland, and a perfect end to the evening.
Images by Tom Joy & Dan Bamford