A 19th century inn on the edge of Windsor Great Park, The Oxford Blue pub is sizable, with a long terrace and neat paint job. But while The Oxford Blue might look like a pub, with its friendly and relaxed atmosphere, flagstone floors, tartan furniture, and beers and ales on tap, it’s a really refined restaurant.
Acquired by chef patron Steven Ellis in 2015 and relaunched earlier this year with a new game-focused menu, this destination pub has continued to evolve. The Oxford Blue is Ellis’ first solo venture. He’s the former sous chef of three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and has done stints at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and Andrew Pern’s Star Inn in North Yorkshire.
And it’s Pern’s relaxed but refined style that you really see at The Oxford Blue: exceptional food served within comfortable, easy surroundings.
Ellis works closely with the Windsor Great Park gamekeeper, Peter Clayton. The Oxford Blue only culls the animals it needs, promoting the natural food cycle and ensuring it doesn’t contribute further to environmental damage through mass grazing. It operates the ‘nose to tail’ principle, showing off lesser known cuts of meat, offering an exciting menu, all while reducing waste.
The attention to detail is spot on: from the feather from a game bird decorating the amuse bouche, the hand-drawn map showing all the suppliers used, to the impressive and imposing knife handles made with deer antlers.
Overheard conversations reveal a mix of locals, families, special occasion tourists, and even talk of a few A-list celebrity appearances. Always on the down low of course.
Restaurant manager Sean Arthur has compiled the drinks menu, with a large and diverse selection of wines from around the world. Some classics in there, but plenty of new, up-and-coming producers too. The selection is taken from the wine attic upstairs, which is also available as a private dining room. There’s also local beers and ales on tap, a wide selection of bottled beer, enough spirits to keep everyone happy, and a classic cocktail menu. For the non-drinkers, the entire range of Luscombe soft drinks, teas and coffees.
Keeping it extremely local with a glass of Windsor Great Park Vineyard Brut was a brilliant start, packed full of biscuit and apples with a nice citrusy finish, followed by a glass of juicy Carignan, with a good whack of acidity to stand up to my main.
Before we’ve even had a chance to have a proper gaze around, the amuse bouche appears – venison bon bons, perfectly-sized bites of sweet, gamey, soft, long-braised meat, in a light, crispy crust, served with a punchy mustard mayonnaise.
Theatrically, the bread arrives in a paper bag which is torn open dramatically. It might be the sort of thing to annoy you, but it is so good, accompanied by properly salted butter you want to spread an inch thick.
Cheesecake served with Isle of Wight tomatoes, Bloody Mary jelly and basil is artistic, gleaming and wobbling slightly on the plate. The thin layer of acidic jelly cuts through the soft, savouriness of the cheese, with the tomatoes full of so much more flavour than you ever get from the supermarket.
I am a little jealous of my friend’s wood pigeon Scotch egg, sat majestically in a pea and broad bean velouté with smoked bacon. The yolk oozes out. I sneak a rich, nutty bite.
I always try to go with what the chef or staff recommend, and pick something different from my dining companion, but both of us immediately and passionately wanted the Windsor Great Park Smoke Pit for our main course: an unctuous bourbon-glazed wild boar chop, sticky and sweet roe deer neck burnt ends, mildly spicy and crumbly wild rabbit chorizo, summer truffle mac and cheese, heavy with truffle and silky sauce, and the prettiest house slaw I’ll ever lay eyes on. This is barbecue food elevated to new and humorous heights.
Dessert offered the next tricky decision. The pastry team is led by Ami Ellis, Steven’s wife. The two met while working at the Star Inn. Stuck between, well, just five options, it was back to asking for recommendations. I hadn’t even considered the huge cheese selection priced by the slice. I thought I’d better not after having cheese for starter, and cheese with my main… I eventually plumped for the Macaron, served with raspberry, almond, mint and roasted peach sorbet, apparently the hardest dish to plate. It had obviously seen a pair of tweezers and steady hands: it was a perfectly and beautifully executed dish, fresh and palate-cleansing, with the zing of mint and raspberry offsetting the mellow juiciness of the roasted peach sorbet.
Incredibly full, we were presented with our second weapon of the evening, a small wooden hammer, to tuck into a box of The Oxford Blue’s own chocolate. Glancing at my watch, I realised we’d been there for more than three hours: the perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
This is a gastropub upping its game, with its sights on a Michelin star.