The Oxford Blue in Windsor is aiming to nail the Michelin-starred pub formula. Victoria Marston paid a visit to see how close they are to their goal.
If someone were to ask me where I would like to go for a meal, I would usually request a nice pub with a gorgeous garden and a classically British menu.
There was a time when this was a hard thing to find – we had rather nice Italians, French bistros, Koreans and eateries offering most other cuisines you could name, but somewhere serving an elevated version of classic British dishes was more elusive. Thankfully, British grub is back in vogue, as evidenced by The Oxford Blue in Windsor, Berkshire.
Okay, there are classic French elements in the menu – as with a lot of high-end cooking – but the pub specialises in game from the Crown estate, just down the road, and isn’t above offering a Scotch egg as a starter, albeit one crafted from smoked haddock and sitting in a velvety pool of watercress velouté.
I have a tendency, when reviewing restaurants, to let myself be led – ‘What is the chef’s signature dish? And what wine would you recommend with that?’ – which can lead to disappointment when my dining companion is tucking into the dish that my heart truly desired.
So it came to pass that my friend was eagerly awaiting the Scotch egg, while I was worrying that I was about to tuck into a plate of cloven hooves. I needn’t have done, as chef-proprietor Steven Ellis’s signature starter, braised suckling pig’s trotter, transpired to be the most delicate ballotine, served on fresh slices of apple, dots of sauce gribiche and accompanied by black pudding and wafer-thin dehydrated crackling. It was superb – and not a toenail in sight.
And so it was with the rest of the dishes that arrived. Venison bon bons with mustard mayonnaise melted in the mouth. Fresh cider bread, served in a paper bag, was so tasty that I nearly couldn’t eat my main. (I can’t entirely account for the bag, but it did remind me of getting a warm baguette home from the boulangerie in France.) Chargrilled roe deer with wild-garlic pomme purée rivalled the finest I have tasted, at renowned game specialist Rules in Covent Garden.
Finally, there was Cambridge burnt cream, served with lavender shortbread (the lavender comes from the garden). It was too good to leave, despite the quantities of bread consumed.
The wine list here is extensive and surprising – there are sparklers from West Sussex, whites from Bulgaria, reds from Spain and pudding wines from the south of France. The staff are more than knowledgeable enough to rescue someone like me, who balks at more than three options. For the driver, a delicious range of soft drinks – strawberry and elderflower and rose, oh my – is sourced from Devon.
Everything about The Oxford Blue is charming, from the staff to the tartan soft furnishings, the chance to select your own knife – a first, for me – and the tiny hammer proffered to break up the creamy chocolate served with coffee.
Steven – who bought the pub, which dates back to the 1800s, in 2015 and commenced a major overhaul – has worked for the likes of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Andrew Pern, and it shows. As well as the à la carte option, there is a private dining room upstairs offering a ‘nose-to-tail’ tasting menu.
The chef has said that he was aiming for the ‘Michelin-starred pub vibe’ when he bought The Oxford Blue. He appears to be well on his way to achieving it.