boti eats | ox block at the lord nelson

Kenny Tutt, Masterchef champion; chef patron of the fine-dining restaurant, Pitch; owner of beach hotspot The Bayside Social; resident at probably the most lucrative food venue of the South Coast, Shelter Hall; and now pub kitchen franchisee? Somehow the last one has thrown us. It’s like Kenny is doing things in reverse.

So when we were invited to try the newest rendition and home of his Ox Block brand at The Lord Nelson Inn, we were a little apprehensive. Don’t get us wrong, we love this pub, it’s a beautiful example of an English boozer, lots of wood and cosy hideaways, great beer and welcoming staff. But it seemed… a little small, for such a big name. 

As it turns out, Kenny has strong family ties to Harvey’s Brewery, who in fact own the Lord Nelson Inn, so that explains the unusual venue choice and actually makes a lot of sense. It’s great to know he’s invested in the site and is not just shoehorning his concept into any old space. So when you consider the calibre of chef, the food he’s known for, and the look of the menu he’s created, Ox Block’s new home has every chance of being the best it could be. 

corn on the cob ox block brighton

The menu is great, it’s concise with a perfect array of pub stacks, cheffy dishes with cool ingredients (to satisfy the foodies) and enough larger dishes to have a proper dinner or simply some bites and beers. At first glance, we’re not sure there’s anything on the menu we wouldn’t try. Everything is thought out and interesting, right down to the sauces (beef gravy mayo, anyone?!). It’s petite, but honestly, it probably doesn’t need to be any bigger.

ox block burger brighton

We let Kenny make the executive decision on our menu choices for lunch and we’re very happy to say he picked perfectly. There’s a lot we could go into on each dish, but we don’t want to bore anyone, so these are some notes on our highlights:

crispy black pudding balls ox block brighton

Crispy black pudding with maple sriracha
These (pictured above) might not win any beauty prizes, but they’re beautifully seasoned, crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. The black pudding (which we believe was Morcilla, the best kind) was herby, savoury and mouth-wateringly moist. The maple sriracha is outstanding, spicy and sweet. All very reasonable for £5.

three cheese and mustard truffle toastie ox block

Three-cheese truffle mustard toastie
Montgomery Cheddar, Red Leicester and Parmesan packed generously into a grilled cheese sandwich.  What more could you ask for? Well, add truffle and mustard mayo to top it all off and you’ve got a serious sandwich. The toastie was lovely and crunchy, with a glossy butter fry, nice cheese pull and a good amount of truffle. Here’s a great tip: dip it in the maple sriracha – it needs a little vinegary something something to counter the fat. Beer is essential.

fried chicken kewpie mayo and pickles ox block

Fried chicken, pickles and Kewpie mayo
The chicken (although delicious) was a little dusty for our taste, but that’s the Japanese karaage style (here, the chicken is seasoned first, then coated with flour). It makes for super-crispy chicken but a lot comes down to personal preference. The pickles had a great flavour, but on this occasion maybe needed an extra day in the liquor. The Kewpie mayo (egg yolks only go into this Japanese mayo giving it a richer flavour) was really good, too – eat it all together and you’ll have a seriously tasty mouthful. Nothing groundbreaking perhaps, but you definitely won’t be disappointed if you order this.

spiced lamb kofta

Spiced kofta
The saying ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ really resonates with this dish. Separately, the lamb kofta was a bit dry but had lovely Middle-Eastern flavours, the tahini dip was ok if lacking a bit of punch and the flat breads were soft and fluffy. A little underwhelming in its separate elements, but add some of the house sauces in, eat it all together and the dish comes alive – the green herb sauce and the house chilli sauce make the whole plate explode with flavour!

gunpowder chicken ox block brighton

Gunpowder chicken
This plate had really great, vibrant, popping flavours. The chicken was nicely brined, making it juicy and succulent; the grill added a lovely smokiness which rounded the profile off nicely. It looked great, too!

ox block fries brighton

Loaded chips with bacon crumb and Harvey’s cheese sauce (and beef gravy mayo!)
These chips are just top-shelf, down and dirty naughty-as-fuck delicious. They’re a good size, not too thick nor too skinny, lovely and potatoey, fluffy and light. And the beef gravy mayo is probably the best thing on the menu.

deep fried oreos ox block brighton

Deep-fried Oreo
Trashy decadence at its best. In his own words, Kenny describes this dish as ”very reminiscent of Brighton Pier donuts, the smell and the feel, which bring back memories of being a kid”. And they’re exactly that, they invoke nostalgic memories of beach holidays and chilly afternoons with a bag of hot, fresh donuts and a whistling sea breeze. Eat together with a big scoop of the dolce de leche ice-cream and it works so so well. Almost a perfect dessert.

You can tell all of this food is made by a proper chef; it could so easily be underwhelming, but it’s not. The processes are clever and the flavours are always balanced. It’s impressive and, ultimately, delicious.

We won’t use the word surprised, because that would be an insult to Kenny, but we were happily reassured after eating here that this isn’t a step down for him. It’s an extension of a product/brand he’s created and hasn’t left to die. And we’re glad it hasn’t – the food is really great, nothing disappointed and, in all honesty, it stands up to any pub-based food in the city.

There’s a concern that the level of quality may lack once he leaves, as so much of the flavour clearly comes from his great knowledge of cooking, so we’ll be keeping a tentative eye on how Ox Block continues here, but right now? It’s very, very good.

By Jack Southan

Please note: Ox Block is no longer serving at the Lord Nelson Inn, but will be at Pub In the Park in September

Photo credits: Justin De Souza (feature image and first two images); Jack Southan (all other images)