Steven Ellis on his new pub Oxford Blue

By Hannah Thompson

- Last updated on GMT

Steven Ellis on his new pub Oxford Blue

Related tags: Restaurant gordon ramsay, Inn, Gordon ramsay

Fresh from seven years with Clare Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and two years with Andrew Pern at the Star Inn, Steven Ellis is raring to go with Oxford Blue, opening in Windsor in late summer within two 19th century cottages that used to belong to army ‘Blues’ hero Tom Evans after the Battle of Waterloo. 

Why are you opening your own place now?

It’s always been my dream to do it; I’ve always written down ideas as I’ve gone along. I was working for Clare [Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay] at the time, but I was then headhunted by a businessman who I met through Andrew Pern [The Star Inn, North Yorkshire]. He wants to remain anonymous now, but he asked me, ‘Is this your passion, do you really want to open a pub?’ Of course, I said yes. So we went into business together. There was no way I could have afforded it on my own. I was in the right place at the right time.

Are you able to say ballpark how much you’re investing?

It’s north of a million. That includes everything. When I bought it, it was in a bit of a state, but it was more the history and story that drew me to it. It’s a stunning location too.

Why do a pub, rather than a high end restaurant that you're used to?

The way I look at it, France has its brasseries, Italy has its trattorias, Spain has its tapas bars, and Britain has its pubs. It's something that I really believe in. Where we are in Windsor is stunning, with all the game in the area. I can be in London if I need to in 40 minutes, but at the same time I can be out here in the countryside, serving great food and making people happy.

Where does your love of pubs come from?

I started as a chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, not as a trainee, in a kitchen role. Then I really wanted to get into the Michelin scene, so I jumped in at the deep end at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. At the Star Inn, I saw they were cooking high end game and had exceptional service, but they also had pub banter and fantastic ales. I just fell in love with it.

What else will you bring from your time working with Smyth and Pern?

Clare taught me traditional French techniques, and I had the privilege of her teaching me herself. I have such respect for that lady. She never overcomplicates a dish. From Andrew, it was more working with local suppliers and enjoying your surroundings. My general manager is Daniel Crump, who was head waiter at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and his wife Margriet will also be on the team; she used to be the assistant manager at Petrus and then restaurant Trinity with Adam Byatt. They share my passion. Our ultimate goal is to have customers who leave happy and come back.

Is it important to have staff with that level of previous high-end experience?

Yes and no. I’ve worked with a lot of the staff in the kitchen before, but we’re also taking on people who don’t have Michelin-star experience. I want the chefs to learn how to prep a whole animal, and we’re all very passionate about training. It’s about picking people who want to learn.

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You're planning a private dining room with a separate, nose-to-tail menu...

We don't have a wine cellar, but we have a big room upstairs, so I just thought, why don't we put the wine in there, and call it the wine attic? It's now also an eight-cover dining room with a private bar. Depending on the season, I'll do set dishes such as a whole venison, moving down the animal. I want to show that you can use the saddle, the loin, the shoulder, the heart. From that one animal, you can create an entire menu, and celebrate the seasons. So venison tartare, braised shoulder, or venison Wellington. It's about making those eight people feel that bit more special.
 
What is it about game that you especially like?

A big thing is the sustainability. With a cow or a chicken or a pig, they can go into a factory and get processed. That doesn’t really happen with game. Each animal has its peak time when it’s best to eat. People are often put off by it, but if you get the right animal at the right time of year, it can be amazing.

Do you have any dishes that come to mind as particular examples of your new menu?

I’m doing a pig’s trotter dish, with a braised pork belly stuffed with apple carpaccio and side of crab-apple. Clare [Smyth] did something similar to that, and I really liked that level of refinement. It’s turned into a ballotine, so it doesn’t scare people off.

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Some might say pubs are losing their traditional feel because of the spread of high-end food concepts. How is your pub going to avoid that?

I do want to keep it a proper pub. The central area is going to stay drinks only, and the dining room is at the back, so it will have the initial feel of the pub. A pub lets you do so much, not just dinner. You can do a casual drink with one friend, big night out with mates, or even a romantic meal.

Who are you hoping will come through the doors?

We want to be welcoming to people in the area, but we’d also love people to come from London and further afield. We just want to be known for good service and food, and people to come back. That was something that Restaurant Gordon Ramsay did well, people used to return because they liked the whole package, and I was always very aware of that. We’d love to recreate that here.

Is Michelin the aim?

If I get a star I’d be very happy, but I’m not aiming for it right now. I just want to get it off the ground and do the best food I can.

Former Restaurant Gordon Ramsay chef to open first pub Oxford Blue

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