A lot can change in the space of a decade.

Fashion trends come and go, cheerful children morph into surly teenagers and what once seemed like ground-breaking technology inevitably becomes obsolete.

But in Glasgow’s restaurant scene at least, there has been one constant.

This year Ox and Finch, one of the city's most beloved venues, celebrates 10 years in the business with no hint of slowing down since their ‘whirlwind’ opening week in 2014.

Still at its helm today is founder Jonathan MacDonald, who took a journey back in time to share a story which began with a stint on Scotland's burgeoning street food circuit.

Pictured: Jonathan MacDonald of the Ox and FinchPictured: Jonathan MacDonald of the Ox and Finch (Image: Newsquest)

“The intention was always to look for a restaurant site, but that’s a difficult thing to do and takes time,” he said.

“As a sort of precursor to the Ox and Finch we ran a pop-up restaurant at SWG3 called the Street Food Cartel and did events like the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.

“At the time people like El Perro Negro, Tantrum Doughnuts and Chompsky, which went on to become Gnom, were all doing the street food thing as well.

“It was a great incubator as well as a team builder and a lot of the original Ox and Finch team, some of whom are still working with us, started off doing these events.”

“It was a lot of fun, but there comes a point when you want to turn up to work knowing that you’ll have running water or be able to plug something into a wall without a generator.”

Pictured: The site was previously home to a Greek restaurantPictured: The site was previously home to a Greek restaurant (Image: newsquest)

MacDonald himself had spent plenty of time in kitchens equipped with far more than the basic amenities he had begun to sorely miss.

Time spent in Australia, Southeast Asia and London served as inspiration for a Glasgow restaurant with a plan to put fine dining experience into practice without the fuss and formalities.

All his team needed was the right home, a former Greek restaurant in what would soon become one of the city’s buzziest neighbourhoods.

“Finnieston wasn’t quite what it is now,” he said while explaining how they secured the perfect unit on Sauchiehall Street.

“The Gannet had not long opened and Crabshakk had been there for a few years, but it was still a bit sleepy which is crazy to think looking back.

“Our team had a lot of restaurant experience behind us, and we reconfigured the space to suit our ideas.

“The Ox and Finch was always designed to be relaxed and accessible while still delivering on quality.

“We wanted to undersell and over-deliver, using that sort of “cheffy” background to develop the food.”

Pictured: All members of the team are encouraged to get involved in the creative process at Ox and FinchPictured: All members of the team are encouraged to get involved in the creative process at Ox and Finch (Image: newsquest)

Following hands-on renovation work to transform the space into bright and open restaurant where diners could indulge in sharing plates while watching the world of the West End go by, it was time for MacDonald, Andy MacSween and Daniel Spurr to welcome their first customers.

And that, he says, is when the fun really started.

“It was mad.

“We officially opened in 2014 and pretty much the start of the Commonwealth Games when venues like Kelvinhall and Kelvingrove were being used for events.

“The Hydro had also just opened around that time.

“The city was absolutely buzzing and we were rammed from day one.

“We got a few good reviews and within a few months the Michelin inspectors were in and we were awarded our Bib Gourmand which was great national PR.

“It was a whirlwind start.”

Thankfully, talented colleagues on either side of the pass were no strangers to a busy dinner time rush, bringing with them experience from the likes of Gamba in the city centre.

“To enjoy working in this industry and opening your own places you have to thrive living life on the edge and under a bit of pressure,” MacDonald continued.

“Even now I don’t think I’ve stopped having three or four things on the go at once.”

Another chapter in the story of Ox and Finch came in 2015, as its owners set their hearts on a former Arnold Clark Garage on Vinicombe Street for a new sister venture named Ka Pao.

It would take four years until work was complete, and just months after opening in January 2020  the pandemic would force them to press the brakes once more.

Even this couldn’t dampen the growing hype, however, with South East Asian-inspired dishes like corn ribs with salted coconut and lime or fried chicken in fish sauce caramel becoming cult favourites amongst Glasgow’s foodies.

So much so, that MacDonald remembers a time when swapping the boneless chicken meat for wings caused such an uproar from customers who swore by the same order during every visit that the decision was swiftly reversed.

Michelin inspectors were fans too, and a Bib Gourmand for Glasgow and a second outlet at the St James Quarter in Edinburgh followed for the Ka Pao brand.

Asked if he has ever considered following suit with a second Ox and Finch, MacDonald replied: “There are definitely links between the Ka Pao and Ox and Finch.

“Although the food is completely different, they share the same ethos of delivering high quality and accessible food that’s great to share as a group.

“That underpins everything we do.

“With Ox and Finch I think we’ve established a place that suits our little corner in Kelvingrove and that would be difficult to replicate.

“And I wouldn’t really want to.

“We’re giving the place a bit of a birthday refurb but even then, it would be dangerous to change too much because it’s had it’s had such an enduring popularity in the way it’s been for the past 10 years.”

Pictured: Ox and Finch head chef Aurelien MourezPictured: Ox and Finch head chef Aurelien Mourez (Image: Newsquest)

Vital to the success of all three restaurants is a creative process which sees all members of the team continuously encouraged to share their ideas for new dishes or subtle menu tweaks.

MacDonald also swears by an open kitchen set-up, allowing chefs to witness the reaction to their food and thrive from the connection this creates with customers.

It’s a winning formula, but still, no business is immune from the pressures that currently weigh heavily on Scotland’s hospitality sector.

“The last few years have been the most challenging we’ve seen in a decade,” he said.

“We’re very fortunate to be in a position where we’re still busy and successful, but the rising cost of energy and food has had a massive impact.

“There was a point last year where our energy bill jumped from around 23p per minute to more than a pound.

“That means tens of thousands of pounds that you’ve got to try and find somewhere.

“We don’t want to slap our prices up because we know that people are experiencing the exact same thing at home.

“When we first opened, we tried to keep every dish under a tenner, but even a supermarket meal deal cost almost four quid now.

“Even now the most expensive thing on the menu is around £15 or £16 and there’s a lot of love and sourcing of quality ingredients that goes into that price.”

Thanks to loyal customers who keep bookings full at both Ox and Finch and Ka Pao, MacDonald says yet another project from the Scoop Restaurant Group will be unveiled in the city centre this year.

Pictured: MacDonald has said it would be difficult to replicate the magic of the West End restaurantPictured: MacDonald has said it would be difficult to replicate the magic of the West End restaurant (Image: Newsquest)

There’s little more information to be shared for now, but he is clearly eager to play an even bigger part in Glasgow’s thriving restaurant scene.

“I’m biased, but I think the food on offer here is probably the best in Scotland.

“There are incredibly talented chefs from the Michelin-starred restaurants right through to the authentic Chinese places that have popped up all over Dumbarton Road or Middle Eastern and Pakistani cafes.

“There’s such incredible diversity in the spectrum of food and price points.”

Are he and the Ox and Finch team ready for the next 10 years then, we ask as the conversation draws to a close.

MacDonald laughs and ends with: “It might be time to retire after that.”

Ox and Finch is located at 920 Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

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