There's a clubby feel to Ox Eatery - a gentleman's club rather than a nightspot. Curved booths, mood lighting, oxen heads (made of wood or metal) on the walls, the big rotisserie on the walls. There's a bar and patio for casual drinks at the one end of the room, screened off with plants, and tables all down the rest of the narrow space. And there's the wide expanse of tinted window that offers a rather darkened outlook onto the far end of Giles Street with the Kingo pub opposite.
There's the a la carte menu or you can choose from a couple of "table spread" menus that range from $45 to $65 a head and allow you choose a set number of mains and sides. The wine list is sensibly varied by the glass and expansive by the bottle (big ticket Louis Roederers and the Rockford Basket Press series of shiraz). But there's also an emphasis on whisky flights and a specialised list of gins - from the Swedish organic Hven to a selection of Australian styles.
The spirits make an appearance in one of the small plates. Whisky-cured salmon is a tangle of thin pink slices, heavily scented with peat and malt, and served with little rectangles of rye crackers and dollops of creme fraiche. It's all very Scandinavian and suitably complements the salmon without distracting from its flavour. It's a good start - all that juicy salmon, the whiff of whisky and crisp biscuit cushioned on the soft cream.
Sliders ($5 each) are a simple, easy little dish that get the job done. Thin braised beef slices with plenty of rather runny mayo and lettuce leaves stuffed into miniature buns - it's a slider that's all about the beef which is nicely juicy. The only, albeit small criticism, is that sliders are a staple on menus around the city and these are a little on the conservative side. There's more you could do with a slider.
Ox rillettes ($4) turn out to be a couple of big wedges of pressed meat perched on thin toasted brioche slices and topped with a sprinkle of watercress. A couple of sunny, decorative smears of egg yolk on the plate wait to be mopped up with the bread and while the rillettes are a generous serve, they don't blast you with meaty flavour.
The star of the eatery is the rotisserie, where chickens and pigs are crisped to golden brown perfection behind the counter, rotating gently for all to see. A slab of pork belly ($36) is tender and clean, very simply flavoured, with a fat lid of crackling that's more on the chewy, crunchy side rather than puffy like chicharron - with a little pool of gravy and gentle apple sauce. Good winter eating and plenty of it.
A restaurant that's all about the rotisserie and the meat doesn't always do justice to its vegetarian diners, other than a perfunctory main or, worse, the idea that its heretic customer will simply make do with eating a collection of veggie side dishes, mostly fried potato. But Ox offers something much better. The linguine with silver beet and walnuts ($29) is a hearty vegetarian option - the nutty morsels cling beautifully to the pasta while the silver beet lends a richness offset by a hint of bitter and a swirl of olive oil. It's a perfectly satisfying dish that's in keeping with the meatiness of the rest of the menu. It comes with its own veggie side - a rocket salad - which makes for a fairly good value meal in itself.
That's not to say that the sides aren't worth trying - there are plenty and they range from the whimsical "melange of root vegetables" to straight up fried potatoes ($10 each). We get one of each, after failing miserably to compromise on a single side dish. The melange is a pile of julienned veg, drizzled with dressing, more like a light coleslaw. And the fried potatoes are perfectly crisp.
After all that - three entrees, mains and plenty of sides - dessert might be a bit of a stretch. But a panna cotta with house-made honey jumble is hard to go past. It's lovely and silky with the right hint of vanilla but the honey biscuit on the side is a little tough to cut and a shard goes spinning into the aisle.
There have been some interesting things to drink and a couple of pretty good moments on the plate tonight - Ox Eatery might be a little stranded from the rest of the Kingston trendiness, on the opposite end from the foreshore, but there are some decent dishes to be had.
Address: 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston
Phone: 6178 0041
Owner: Adi Watters and Steve Rockmann
Chef: Aaron Woodford
Hours: Lunch noon-2.30pm, Tuesday to Friday; dinner 6pm-10pm Monday to Saturday.
Licensed: Yes and no BYO
Vegetarian: A couple of good options
Wheelchair access: Yes and disabled toilets
To pay: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, eftpos, cash
Seats: About 100.
Noise: Medium. You won't have to shout but you'll have to speak up.
Summary: Decent meat-focused dishes in comfortable surrounds.
Wine list: ★★★☆
Value for money: ★★★☆