The Oxford Blue is a long-established pub in Windsor that in 2015 was taken over by chef/owner Steven Ellis, and finally reopened at the very end of 2016. Steven grew up in the Middle East but went to catering college in the UK. He cooked for a year at The Star Inn in Yorkshire and later as sous chef at Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant, where he worked for over five years under head chef Clare Smyth.
The building actually dates back to two gamekeeper cottages in the 1800s, though the frontage is really all that remains of the original building. Inside feels fairly modern, and there is terrace seating at the front and back. Tables are well-spaced, so they have not tried to jam too many customers into the space, even on this busy Saturday night. Despite the wooden floor and music playing, noise levels were tolerable.
The wine list featured labels such as Settasolli Mandrarosso Grill Chardonnay 2015 from Sicily at £27 for a bottle that you can pick up in the high street for £8, Croze Hermitage Equinoxe 2015 from Domaine Equis at £45 compared to its retail price of £16, and Morey Santanay Vielles Vignes 2013 at £69 for a wine that will set you back £25 in a shop. Many wines are under £50 on the list, but if you want to splash out then there are a few examples like Condrieu Les Terrasses de Palat 2014 at £98 compared to its retail price of £35. Alternatively, corkage is £25.
The meal began with some nibbles. Venison bon-bons had crisp batter and plenty of flavour, served with a good mustard mayonnaise (strong 14/20). A vegetarian alternative of arancini was also good, the batter clean (14/20). Cider bread loaf was made from scratch in the kitchen and had excellent texture, though for me would have been even better with a bit more salt (15/20).
Green and white asparagus from the Wye Valley was seasonal and attractively presented with a confit of egg yolk, featuring an extremely delicate tuile ring. The asparagus itself was good quality and carefully cooked, accompanied by a precisely made Hollandaise sauce (16/20). Hand-dived scallop from Orkney was attractively presented in its shell, with a sliver of crisp smoked pork belly, broad beans and peas with their pods. The scallop had good natural sweetness and the beans in particular were excellent (16/20).
Morel risotto with wild garlic had properly cooked arborio rice, though for me a bit less wild garlic relative to the morels would have been even better. The morels were good rather than dazzling, though this was certainly a capable risotto (14/20) Loin of char-grilled roe deer came with wild garlic pomme puree, a croquette of the braised deer neck and St George mushrooms. The meat was excellent, the neck croquette having particularly good flavour, the accompaniments working well (16/20). Chips cooked in beef fat were crisp and delicious, tasting clean and being accurately cooked (15/20).
For dessert, popcorn ice cream with banana galette, salted caramel and popcorn shoots sounded an odd flavour combination but worked quite effectively (15/20). I tried rum baba with vanilla cream and grapefruit, garnished with a little mint. Rum baba is really hard to do well since it very easily dries out, but this version was genuinely good, the grapefruit bringing a nice acidic balance (easily 16/20). We also sampled a new dessert of strawberry bavarois using gariguettes strawberries from France, flavoured with elderflower and lemon balm – sophisticated and with lovely fruit (16/20). Coffee was from a company called Doppio in north London, and was all right but for me was a bit rustic, presumably due to some robusta beans in the blend. It came with freshly tempered chocolate with hazelnuts, which was gorgeous.
Service was excellent, led by a charming general manager called Daniel Crump, who worked at Ramsay Royal Hospital Road after some years on luxury cruise ships. Mr Crumps’s wife Margriet Vandezande-Crump oversees the wine list. The bill came to £66 with a bottle of wine to share. This seems very fair to me given the quite evidently high level of culinary skill in the kitchen. This is a terrific place that I will definitely be returning to.