the Oxford Blue
10 Crimp Hill,
Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 2QY
Tel. 01753 861954
Food type: British
Nearest tube: N/A
Website: the Oxford Blue
I was having a casual meal at Beehive when the manager there, Alicia, asked me “Have you tried the Oxford Blue?”
“The Oxford what?” I answered
“There is a new pub in Windsor” she said enthusiastically. “The chef there is ex-Ramsay.” So I did a little bit of research, but there was not much about the restaurant. Chef/ proprietor Steven Ellis heads up the kitchen here and was formerly sous chef under Clare Smyth at Royal Hospital Road. His fiancee Amy has joined him as the pastry chef here, again having experience at Royal Hospital Road as well as the Star Inn under Andrew Pern. Whoever is financially backing this restaurant is aiming high. This is not your ordinary gastropub. There is an extensive selection of beers, ales and bitters as well as a wine list. There are also plenty of fine wines by the glass through the Coravin system.
We visited the Oxford Blue for lunch. At the time of visit, the restaurant was still relatively new. You can still smell the fresh coat of paint which had gone into refurbishing the restaurant. Starters from the a la carte menu are between £7 and £15, Mains £19 to £32 and desserts £6.50 to £8.50. On average, you will be spending £45 for a 3 course meal from the a la carte menu. There is also a set lunch menu priced at £30 for 3 courses. In addition, there is an additional fairly extensive menu consisting of the daily specials. We ordered from the a la carte menu.
A couple of complementary venison bon-bons (croquettes) kick off the meal. It makes sense since we are in Windsor, and they source their venison locally from the Crown Estate. These had a deep, rich venison flavour and had been accurately seasoned. There was enough fat within the bonbons to keep it moist. The dip on the side, a wholegrain mustard mayonnaise with just enough kick. I have eaten worse croquettes in Michelin starred places.
I tried the chef’s signature starter of suckling pig trotter, here done up as a boudin on a carpaccio of apples. Steve Ellis trained under Clare Smyth, so this is his take on the pied de cochon that they serve at Royal Hospital Road. Despite refining the dish, this dish ticked the right boxes for all the things that make eating trotters so enjoyable. The skin is braised down nicely so that it has a gelatinous texture and the meat avoiding the trap of having too much fat. Clean, refreshing acidity from the granny smith apples helped balance the richness of the pork. I was particularly taken by their black pudding, obviously home made, which had a nice blend of spice to it. On the side, pork crackling made to resemble the trip advisor logo.
Having come off night shifts and not having eaten anything for a good 16 hours, I ordered another starter from the daily specials. The mushrooms on toast here is an elegant version featuring chicken of the wood, morels and St Georges topped with two poached quails eggs. These mushrooms are courtesy of the chef’s friend who went foraging recently. I like this kind of approach to cooking – a chef who has a core menu, but also is open to having plenty of specials depending on what he gets his hands on. It keeps regulars coming back for more. Nice earthy notes of the mushrooms, balanced by the richness from the quails egg and sweetness from the vinaigrette dressing. The chicken of the wood mushroom had a very interesting texture, akin to a poached chicken breast which I thought was lovely.
My wife, being the proverbial bore, chose the Ploughman’s. This is brought to the table theatrically on a trolley with the honey roast ham carved table side. The cheese is Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, crumbly, tangy and slightly salty. There were 3 pickles on offer – an extremely good piccalilli, red wine pickled onions and apple chutney. This is a pretty substantial sized starter especially for lunch, especially with the the mini loaf of freshly baked bread on offer.
I really should choose something more exciting than steak and chips, but chef has made a bit of effort to try and give it a little lift with a braised short rib in ale added to the mix. This is very Ramsay, putting a cheaper cut alongside a more expensive cut on the plate. Judging by the uniformity of the meat, the beef had been cooked sous vide and finished on the grill. For me, it could have done with a harder char on the exterior like they do at Hind’s Head/ Dinner and bolder seasoning to lift the flavour of the beef. The braised rib itself could have also done with more seasoning. The chips, cooked in beef fat, were remarkably good. As good as what you would get at McHeston’s. They were uniformly cooked, fluffy without any evidence of drying out in the middle.
My wife is ever so predictable. She sees risotto on the menu (from the seasonal specials) and she will order risotto. The rice was cooked al dente although for me it was a bit softer than how I would prefer it. I think this is cooked to suite the English preference for softer rice than say their Italian counterparts. The risotto had plenty of wild garlic flavour which came through nicely.
For desserts, I finished on a modern take on the classic Peach Melba. In the middle, a peach parfait which has been covered by peach gel. Note the little dimple in the middle to make it resemble a halved peach. This was very enjoyable to eat, the peach flavour coming through nicely and the compressed peaches having good flavour. The only thing missing is the sugar cage! I do think the dish could do with a little bit more texture. Perhaps a few more of the almond brittle/ tuile would have been ideal.
There is plenty to like about the Oxford Blue. The cooking here is a lot more ambitious than your average gastropub. In particular, they have a dedicated team of pastry chef here which is bonus given that desserts seems to be an afterthought for most kitchens in England. Whilst in my opinion, some of the dishes here can be improved with a bit of tweaking it is still early days for the kitchen team here. If there kitchen here continues to push hard and iron out the minor niggles, I am sure they will be on the radar of the Bib.