10 Crimp Hills, Old Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 2QY www.oxfordbluepub.co.uk
It’s dark in the night time countryside of Windsor. Unlit fields of Crown land, winding lanes and encroaching hedgerows might overwhelm a visitor from London.
But then they’ll arrive at their destination, The Oxford Blue, perched on the crest, lighting up the night like a beacon of urbane sophistication. As you regard the converted game-keeper’s cottages from the parking across the road, you can’t help but sense the promise of good times within.
After an 18-month restoration, The Oxford Blue, which has served as a public house since 1829, has been elevated almost overnight to a culinary icon in the unassuming back roads surrounding Windsor Great Park. After only a month of trade The Oxford Blue has already had a visit from Michelin and is fully booked from Thursday-Sunday.
With Steve Ellis as Chef Proprietor, the standard of dining was never going to be in question, and the menu and quality of produce is excellent. Having worked under the banners of Jamie Oliver, Andrew Pern and Gordon Ramsay, Ellis has cherry-picked his favourite techniques and tastes to create a style of his own, blending the familiarity of traditional British pub food with the finesse of fine dining.
With meat from Her Majesty’s estate hanging in the game hut, Ellis’ menu is centred around the wild bounty of the area. The 10-seater private room was dining on a six-course nose-to-tail menu of venison the night of our visit.
The signature braised suckling pig’s trotter is a surprisingly elegant and savoury starter, poised on delicate slices of sweet apple, dotted with Gribiche and accompanied by a fried quail egg, fried black pudding and three crispy strips of crackling.
The smoked haddock Scotch egg is served with a watercress veloute and confit lemon; light, clean flavours and yet still a hearty choice. Scallops in sorrel froth with cucumber pearls are ever so lightly seared and generously meaty.
For main course, the chowder is somewhat deconstructed. Not as creamy or hearty as I expected but the freshness of the plump, white fillet and the gentle flavours of the broth made up for any dashed expectations.
The confit chicken pie is a tall and crispy parcel of rich and flavoursome meat. A luxuriant gravy is poured into the pie at the table and it’s served with leek and the creamiest puree potatoes. And do order the beef-fat chips; they are quite possibly the best chips in the land.
Working closely with Tregothnan, Blakey’s soufflé is fragrant with Earl Grey tea and the Blood Orange Parfait was the most favoured dish of the evening. Encased in a vibrant orange jelly, the flavour of the parfait delivers a divine balance of sweet, creamy and bitter and the perfect end to any meal.
The success of The Oxford Blue does not, however, rest solely on the shoulders of Ellis. Partnered with General Managers Daniel Crump, Restaurant Manager Margriet Vandezande-Crump and working side-by-side with his own partner, pastry chef Ami Blakey, the driving force behind the grand Windsor ‘pub’ is in fact a team of close friends who, by the way, all hail from equally impressive provenance.
You feel instantly welcome as you step inside, both by the traditional game-lodge inspired décor and Daniel’s convivial enthusiasm. As the Crumps seat guests, carve ham and pair wine to your meal, the well-trained and friendly waiters are on hand for your every need; friendly being the operative word here. There’s no room in this dining space for snobbery or dress codes.
While the young team uphold the highest standards when it comes to food and service, they’re intensely focused on creating a relaxed and comfortable dining and bar experience.
The evidence of the team’s pride and commitment to excellence is in the detail, from the crockery and lovingly sourced Bicester butter, to the effortless décor and confident branding. The Oxford Blue is most certainly the newest, sparkling jewel in the crown of Berkshire fine-dining.
Photos are from the restaurant website