Charlotte Peters eats royally
On the first properly cold autumn night of the year I drove west along the M4 to investigate the Oxford Blue Pub, just outside Old Windsor.
My companion kept telling me that he was starving because all he’d had time to eat that day was a banana. “Good” I said, “I think you’re in for a treat.”
Within five minutes of turning off the main road we were driving along a proper country lane that made you feel you were in rural Somerset or Devon, rather than just 25 miles out of London. As we parked I could see the stars clearly in a dark blue sky and smell woodsmoke.
Chef proprietor Steven Ellis took on the Oxford Blue in 2015. I’d done my research and knew that he was a champion of game, sourcing his meat and game locally from the keepers at the neighbouring Crown Estate. In season game ordered from the Great Park in Windsor includes venison, wood pigeon, pheasant and mallard. So I was interested to see what was going to be on offer and how it would be cooked.
The atmosphere as you walk in is light and welcoming, panelled oak floors, squashy sofas, an open fire blazing. Gamebird-themed cushions and deer trophies make fieldsports fans feel at home. For a Thursday night it was pleasantly busy and we were shown to a table with a curved bench seat looking out from the corner, perfect for people watching.
We started with a glass of champagne accompanied by ‘muntjac bonbons’, which were spherical bites of succulence.
I began with the IPA cured river trout which was dressed with dill mayonnaise and pickled cucumber. Beautifully tangy and the ideal starter because it left me wanting more. John had the savoury cheesecake and gave it all the focus you’d expect from someone who had been surviving on a single banana for the last 12 hours.
But he really went for it with the arrival of our main courses, having ordered “A Gamekeepers Fry Up” of red deer black pudding, haggis, roebuck sausage, fallow deer cured bacon and the house brown sauce. I love grouse and as I’m unlikely ever to eat it at Balmoral in August I had opted for the roast ballotine of Balmoral shot grouse which was meltingly perfect.
To drink we chose the Crocus Malbec which held its own perfectly with the game flavours.
To finish I had the milk chocolate, salted vanilla caramel and malt ice-cream whilst John had the parfait of lemon, burnt meringue and verbena.
If you love game in season and fancy an excellent lunch or dinner somewhere smart, fairly rural but easily accessible, then the Oxford Blue is definitely a place to know about.
Open for lunch and dinner daily except Monday, Tuesday and Sunday evening. About £70 a head with wine. (Tip: try the Gamekeepers Lunch menu – three courses for £30.)