The Oxford Blue

The Oxford Blue banner image

Prepare yourselves for the hot hospitality industry gossip from rural Northamptonshire which I know you’re thrilled to be about to read. In the village where I reside for a few days here and there, we’re now reduced to a Co-Op so small there’s usually a queue for the till comprised mainly of cast members from the Borrowers and extras from Ant Man. The fish & chip shop next door isn’t bad, however I’ll spare the details as I don’t wish to spoil the impending exclusive review to feature next week. A few doors down we had a pub. Note the use of ‘had’ there. It was only a matter of time for the bell to toll for the last of last orders, considering the rate of pub closures back in 2014 was a pint glass-dropping twenty-nine per week. This rate has slowed, although the current climate of high business rates which is starting to cripple our mid-range chain restaurants as it is, with respect to pubs is coupled with the high prices of draught beers and increasingly tighter margins, is a recipe for doom. The case here as with many others, has seen the doors lock-up for the night for the last time. We’ve known for years now that the answer to this question is quite straightforward in many instances. That answer is of course, food. You don’t need Michelin Stars to make a pub profitable but of course, it helps. Household names such as the likes of publican powerhouses such as Tom Kerridge, Andrew Pern, and more recently, Tommy Banks are leading the charge. A very British, no nonsense, well sourced quality part of our culinary fabric is here to stay – in addition to giving potential restaurateurs a whole ton of real estate sitting unused across the country offering blank canvasses for new ventures. The Oxford Blue in Old Windsor is such a pub. Several years ago now I’d first stumbled across the news of Steven Ellis, formerly of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and The Star Inn at Harome in North Yorkshire under Andrew Pern, no less, was opening a gastropub. Immediately I became excited by this prospect for one key reason. I’ve eaten at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and thankfully, I enjoyed it more than my credit card did. More importantly, I’m very familiar with The Star. I’ve dined and stayed over in Harome on several occasions and had an excellent experience every time. This pub hidden away in North Yorkshire put rural, free house fine dining on the map – and has been doing it for over twenty years. It doesn’t take a gastronomic genius to figure out that three star Michelin training and middle-of-nowhere local fine dining pub grub at the genesis of the genre is going to create a cooking talent who is going places and is one to watch.Unfortunately, I had to wait a while before being able to finally get my teeth into the Oxford Blue. Building issues delaying opening and me failing to get round to it despite it being frequently on my mind are where I’m lazily placing the blame. Finally, after a hellish trek around the M25, diversion through Uxbridge, Slough town centre (It looks better than it used to) I’d made it on a muggy Friday lunchtime. Immediately greeted with a warm welcome by Margriet and her front of house team at the bar upon entry, it didn’t seem to be a problem at all that I was cutting it fine for time. There would have been even time to accommodate a local ale or two at the bar before sitting down to lunch had I not been driving.Glass of still water in hand, held in a vessel of crystal so light it was almost as if the water was somehow levitating in a zero-gravity environment, it was time to negotiate the lunch menu at our sunny window seat in the immaculately presented dining room. One potential pitfall for an establishment such as this is despite the fine dining message and end product on the plate, you can forget you’re in a pub. The Oxford Blue manages to effortlessly stride over said pit with flying colours – earning a full Blue for sure. Blue of course being the predominant colour, complimented with dark wooden flooring and tables to match, and of course, no tablecloths. Remember, this is a pub. There is no distinct saloon bar and separate dining room; the whole ground floor is opened-up as one entity, keeping the vibe friendly, and making use of all the natural light. Have a pint at the bar and a swift a la carte. It’s clever and it works.Windsor Great Park Venison ball things, bread and butter out of the way and the lunch menu procession begins. A very competitively-priced £25 for two and another fiver on top for three courses was of course the order of the day. A smoked haddock scotch egg, sitting whole and proudly atop confit lemon and watercress veloute was enormous. Like a panko-encrusted egg from Alien awaiting my greedy dissection. Fortunately, instead of being greeted by a face-hugging monster ready to latch onto my mug and impregnate me with something a few Rennie’s wouldn’t remedy, a perfect – and I mean perfectly runny hen’s egg yolk awaited me. The hake which followed, as fresh as a newly-hatched chest-burster with some bang-in-season Jersey Royals, samphire and a mustard sauce hit the spot perfectly. It was giving my local fish & chip shop a run for its money that’s for sure. Just across from me a rabbit dish was being tackled, which I noticed had some serious preparation go into it; a French-trimmed rack, a bone-in bonbon and a velvety rabbit sauce is a lot of graft for a lunch menu and did not go unnoticed.That painstakingly-prepared rabbit dish sums up the Oxford Blue. It’s a place of precision, of quality; in service, execution of the dishes and the delivery of flavour. You can really see how the years Chef Ellis spent between two great bastions from across each end of the spectrum of modern British fine dining finds happy cohesion with this project. The end result is simply astounding and very much at the forefront of where our pubs are heading in the future whilst we’re still in these uncertain times for the industry as a whole. If any of the investors in the business read this, I know of a recently-vacated village that could do with a similar smattering of Oxford Blue paint…The Oxford Blue, 10 Crimp Hill, Old Windsor, Windsor SL4 2QY 01753 861954