Blind tasting: Stevie Toman, OX restaurant, Belfast

Candied Yuzu peel, Donegal Rapeseed Oil, a tomato, Highbank Organic Orchard Syrup

The chef

Stevie Toman
OX restaurant, Belfast

I’m interviewing Belfast chef wunderkind Stevie Toman on a Monday morning. His restaurant, OX, on Oxford Street in Northern Ireland’s capital, is closed to the public – there is no one else in the building and there is no food in the room apart from the bits and pieces I’ve brought for his tasting.

It’s all a bit tense, frankly, but as I tie the blindfold around Stevie’s head in full view of the huge bay window, he bursts out laughing and says, “God, people will think it’s some kind of terrorist attack!”

Perhaps it’s a measure of how far Belfast and its people have come that we can now consider cracking a wee joke about our recent past? And certainly in this runaway success of a restaurant, it feels like Stevie Toman and Alain Kerloc’h are opening a new modern chapter for the city and its hospitality.


So Stevie is a bit nervous. He’s worried I’m trying to catch him out, that he won’t come away with a good result.

This is pretty amusing when you consider he has won just about every accolade he could have since OX opened in early 2013 – except, notoriously, an illusive star from that unfathomable French tyre company who once again this year got it so wrong in Ireland.

Blind tasting

Candied Yuzu peel from La Grande Epicerie de Paris

“Wow, that’s lovely, what is that? Clementine? Lime? The pith is on, I can taste that . . .”

It’s yuzu, I tell him.

“Ah. That would be very nice with white choc. I’d grate it – it has good texture. But not here – there aren’t too many Asian ingredients here in OX.

“It’s mad. You can get all that stuff in Ireland, but not fish! It’s so rare to get in first on fish because it gets exported. You know it’s there. You just can’t get to it.”

Donegal Rapeseed Oil

(Takes a sniff, gets it right away.) “Rapeseed oil. I use gallons of the stuff! Maybe five litres a week.

“It’s the same thickness as a good olive oil so it’s on plate very well and I use it to dress. I don’t even have to make a vinaigrette, the oil’s enough.

“Love it. I’ve just made a chocolate bark with it. You melt the chocolate with the rapeseed, aerate it in a syphon and then freeze it quickly. It’s fantastic [I try it later, it is]. You need the oil to set it, and olive oil has too strong a taste.”

A tomato from Donal Doherty’s walled garden at Harry’s Inishowen.

(Relaxing) “Well what can I say? It’s a tomato.”

I tell him it’s from Donal’s garden. (Laughs, relieved.)

“Could be a bit sweeter for me. But it’s good. We use Ailsa Craig tomatoes, they’re a bit like this, similar shape.”

Rocky Road 

"Ha. Is this from Starbucks? It’s a bit trashy, but I like it. I don’t think all chefs practice what they preach about healthy eating. After 90 hours, you want a burger, you know?"

"For my daughter Eva though, I cook better at home. I make vegetable purees and juices and freeze them for her. John McCormick in Helen’s Bay has great stuff too.”

Highbank Organic Orchard Syrup

“Baby food?” Nope, I say, that is Highbank Organic Orchard Syrup. (Laughs) “Na, that’s baby food – c’mon, everyone eats their baby’s food, don’t they?”

OX Restaurant, 1 Oxford Street, Belfast, 028 9031 4121.