Oxford Blue, Old Windsor
I literally couldn’t contain my excitement when I finally made it to the Oxford Blue, Old Windsor. Why all the girlie hysteria? Having semi-stalked the pub on social media, after a two-year renovation, chef proprietor Steven Ellis finally flung open the doors to his fine dining pub-restaurant on the last day of 2016. Is that not enough?
You’re right. Let me make the introductions. Muddy readers meet Steven Ellis. He’s a top chef caked in stardust having worked at three-michelin-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and Ian Pern’s Michelin starred Star Inn in North Yorkshire. You could say he knows his way around the kitchen. The Oxford Blue is the new kid on the Berkshire block. But does it live up to hype? Let’s not beat about the bush. It really does.
Formerly two gamekeepers’ cottages knocked into one, the property dates back to the 1800s, but its recent transformation is eye-wateringly good. The décor is simply to die for. I mean can we just discuss these walls?! The dark blue and orange tan banquette are the stuff of interior dreams. It’s a quirky blend of gentleman’s club meets elegant hunting lodge with tartan accents and the obligatory wall-mounted antlers.
Steven and his team are clearly detail people – evident in everything from the interior design to the impeccable service and beautiful plates of food. This top team consists of general manager Daniel Crump and restaurant manager Margriet Vandezande-Crump (who created the drinks list). The husband and wife team, and best friends and former colleagues of Steven, have themselves worked for some of the country’s best – Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Petrus and Adam Byatt’s Trinity. Their passion and enthusiasm for the food, drink and service is infectious. They work tirelessly to ensure the staff are up to speed on every dish and instinctively know the wines to match. It’s impressive, particularly as they have only been open for a couple of months.
Our waiter Josh is only 18, and yet answers every query without hesitation and confidently offers recommendations with charm. He also happens to be from Mr Muddy’s hometown, so to say they bonded is an understatement.
Upstairs is the private dining room, available to customers choosing the taster menu, with a wall of wine. Hello! If you lose me, you’ll find me sozzled under this very table. With a mahoosive dent in that beautiful wall. There are 120 wines on offer at the Oxford Blue, each one chosen by restaurant manager Margarite. Wine is her passion and she loves surprising customers with a left-field matching and raves about the quality of English wines.
As Mr Muddy and I sink into a leather Chesterfield sofa, we are handed a glass of Bolney Bubbly from West Sussex, a fantastic fizz to kick off the evening and a plate of venison bon bons to dip in a mustard mayonnaise. The menu is described as one ‘based on tradition and comfort, but with a modern twist’. Lots of gastropubs boast the classics with a twist line, but Ellis takes the concept to a whole new level. Nothing is ever quite what it seems.
To start, I was recommended the Braised Sucklings Pigs Trotter (£12) with a black pudding bon bon, apple and a gribiche sauce. Mr Muddy plumped for the Scallops (£14) with lardo di colonnata (it’s a salami), baby spinach and sorrel velouté.
The portion sizes were good, the flavour was amazing. And despite my fear of Miss Piggy’s chubby toes arriving on a plate, the Pigs Trotter was probably the best starter I have EVER tasted.
Daniel snuck in extra course for us to share (I think he’s a feeder) the Game Crouton with foie gras, bone marrow. As you can imagine it was very rich, but full of flavour. One and a half starters in, I fear this could be a long night.
For our mains, I tried something I would NEVER order – the Chowder. The idea of fish floating around in a thick sauce, never appeals. Steven creates this dish with plaice, clams and eel foam and I think there was eel lurking in the sauce too. While I was on the non-traditional path, the Sirloin of Beef with ale braised short rib, bone marrow and horseradish hollandaise with beef fat chips couldn’t have been more traditional.
Although the chowder is camouflaged on the cream plate, it was light and delicately flavoured. The sirloin was a big hit. No complaints from across the table.
With puddings yet to come, the waistband was starting to pinch. I really should’ve gone for a run (or three) to fit this lot in. I’ll soldier on, I know, I’m good like that. We decided to share a dessert and chose the Blood Orange Parfait. If I had it in me I would’ve tried the selection of British cheeses which is charged by the slice. Brilliant.
The Blood Orange Parfait was a thing of beauty – courtesy of Ami the pastry chef (and Steven’s other half). A sphere of creamy, sweet and sharp parfait is coated to look like its original fruit, and joined on the plate fresh fruit segments. So refreshing. Daniel also sent out the Yorkshire Rhubarb (I told you he was a feeder). Pretty in pink, it was an assortment of textures, sweet and packed full of flavour.
Our wines were matched to the dishes we ordered and I can honestly say there was not one dud. I had two Bulgarian wines with my meal – Edoardo Miroglio Thracian and Pinot Noir. Mr M tucked into a Xavier Frissant Touraine Sauvignon and Joan Simo Viatge al Priorat.
It’s hard to believe but it didn’t end there. A wooden box was delivered to the table with a hammer. Inside was a slab of the Oxford Blue’s own salted caramel chocolate. I just wished this was a pub with rooms, because I really need a lie down.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Anyone you want to impress – it definitely has the wow factor. Special occasions, romantic dates, foodies, girly lunches and dinners, family get-togethers, private diners and informal business lunches. Doggy drop ins – clean, well behaved dogs are welcome in the bar.
Not for: Young families. There’s no kids menu. But if you have well-behaved kids who’ll eat anything, amazing. But if your Mudders are only interested in chicken nuggets, you’re going to struggle here.
£££: High end. Starters £7-£15; Mains £19 to £32; Sides £4; Desserts £6.50-£8.50. If you’re looking for a light lunch then the bar snacks are ideal.
Oxford Blue, 10 Crimp Hill, Old Windsor, Berks SL4 2QY. Tel: 01753 861954. Lunch (Weds-Sat) 12pm-2pm; Dinner 6.30pm-9.30pm; Sunday 12pm to 4pm. oxfordblue.co.uk