Originally gamekeepers cottages dating back to the 1800s, The Oxford Blue pub opened its doors in 1829 after a Waterloo veteran from The Royal Horse Guards, also known as the Oxford Blues, set it up as a pub. Over the years it has become something of a local Old Windsor landmark, and is enjoying a new lease of life after reopening at the start of this year under the watchful eye of chef patron Steven Ellis.
Deep inky blue walls, burnt orange leather banquets, cosy low ceilings, flagstone floors, an open fire and chairs upholstered in thick tartan fabrics (oh, and incredibly pretty toilets); there’s no denying that this is a pub. But don’t underestimate the quality of food and attention to detail here – this is more high-end dining room food than pub grub.
We were greeted by General Manager Daniel Crump, who was genuinely warm and knowledgeable. He and Restaurant Manager Margriet Vandezande-Crump (a husband and wife team) – are close friends and former colleagues of Steven’s from their days at the three Michelin star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. Their combined CVs make for impressive reading.
The menu features classics such as Ploughman’s (with ham carved from a trolley at the table), Liver and Onions and Pie and Mash, alongside the likes of Braised Suckling Pig’s Trotter, Windsor Great Park Rabbit and Chargrilled Roe Deer. On first appearance, it screams familiarity and comfort, yet Steven’s food has a refined elegance that elevates it to another level.
The warm homemade sourdough, served in a brown paper bag was a delicious beginning. The perfectly crisp bite-sized bonbons stuffed with moist venison were even better. The wine menu was very impressive and it was great to see the new guys on the block supporting their more established neighbours by serving ales from the Windsor and Eton Brewery, just up the road.
On Daniel’s recommendation, for starter, my guest and I chose the Braised Suckling Pig’s Trotter and Chicken Liver Parfait. The roll of rich and tender pig’s trotter came with wafer thin slices of green and red apple beautifully layered over the plate, an inch perfect fried quails egg, a crispy coated piece of black pudding and a cider poached crab apple. Delicate slices of pinwheel crackling ‘crisps’ served in their own wooden stand added that extra tasty crunch. The rich parfait in a dark Guinness glaze was served with a tangy apple chutney, thin slices of apple, leaves and mini melba toasts that were beautifully crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. Both dishes showcased Steven’s immense talent for bringing the traditional right up to date with staggering attention to detail.
After a rich and meaty starter, I chose fish for my main course. Two generous fillets of John Dory that flaked apart perfectly were served with half a razor clam shell filled with delicate slices of radish, tomato and clams. Underneath the fish was a ‘minestrone’ of spring green vegetables including spring onions, broccoli and edamame together with a few gnochetti in a vibrant coloured but subtley flavoured green broth. This fresh and delicate dish embraced its simple flavours without resisting to the urge to over-complicate with unnecessary additions. I’d have liked just a little more gnochetti in my dish.
My partner went for the Roe Deer from the specials menu, which is inspired by local ingredients from Windsor’s Crown Estate practically on their doorstep. It was served with a sweep of wild garlic pomme purée decorated with pretty edible flowers, mushrooms and a crisp croquette filled with the braised neck, all in a rich jus poured at the table by Daniel. It was also a hit.
While The Oxford Blue is sure to be a cosy retreat in colder months, it also boasts a sizeable outdoor dining area for the summer months. Decking runs along the front of the building overlooking the fields opposite, while at the rear there is an even bigger terrace area. To one side is a pretty herb and edible flower garden and down some steps to the other, is Steven’s prized game shed where meat is hung to mature. The upstairs wine attic leads a double life as a rather special private dining room space, with its own bar and sound system, views to open countryside and candle-filled windowsills.
Rested and raring to continue, I chose the Peach Parfait for dessert – and wasn’t disappointed. The peach shaped parfait was smooth and full of flavour, surrounded on the plate by an arc of poached peach slices, big juicy raspberries, dots of a raspberry gel and a triangular shard of sticky sweet almond brittle. It was wonderful. My partner chose the big fluffy souffle delicately flavoured with Earl Grey Tea, served with biscuit ice cream, which he also thoroughly enjoyed.
The final special touch came in the shape of a small wooden box and hammer. Inside was an oval of chocolate covered salted caramel with hazelnuts. Gluttonous, yet delightful.
When the level of service front of house matches the seriously impressive food coming from the kitchen, you’re surely on to a winner and The Oxford Blue has that sussed. We will return… if we can get a reservation!