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Ex-Gordon Ramsay chef: 'Pubs can be as good as the best restaurants'

By Daniel Woolfson , 11-Jan-2017
Last updated on 12-Jan-2017 at 18:23 GMT2017-01-12T18:23:48Z

Steven Elllis:
Steven Elllis: "I am my own worst critic"

Steven Ellis worked at some of the country's top Michelin-starred restaurants before opening Windsor gastropub the Oxford Blue. He tells Daniel Woolfson why he fell in love with the pub trade.

Has the reputation of having worked at a three Michelin-starred restaurant helped in stirring up publicity? Do you feel under pressure to live up to those expectations or more relaxed about the opening? 

Working as sous chef under Clare Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay was one of the best decisions I have ever made. She taught me a lot, not just how to cook, but how to hold myself in the kitchen and to respect myself as a chef because you're not just the person out back who cooks the food. She also taught me to respect the food and produce that you work with. 

I think it has attracted a few people. I assume people would be intrigued as to why a chef who spent a large amount of their career working in prestigious restaurants has now decided to open a pub . I have always loved pubs and I don’t see why pubs can't be as good as some of the best restaurants in this country.

I think a lot of the pressure I feel is not from people’s expectations but myself. I am my own worst critic; it could take me months or even years before I decide that I am happy with the standard I am delivering. I am still young and have a lot to prove to myself and to my team. The most important thing to me is that my guests leave happy and feel they have enjoyed the Oxford Blue experience.

How has the local community reacted to the opening of the pub? Do you see it developing a strong regular drink trade?

As this is our first few weeks of trading, it’s still early doors. The locals have known about the pub's refurbishment for a while and we have had a large amount of interest throughout the rebuild. Quite a few locals have come and tried the pub and the feedback is very much positive, which is a great start for us.

The Oxford Blue: opening was significantly delayed

Food is obviously a large aspect of this establishment, however, we are still very much a pub. I hope it’s a place where people come in for a drink with friends and family or sit and read the newspaper in front of the open fire with their dog. Over the next few months I would love for there to be a strong drink trade at the Oxford Blue. 

The pub took longer than anticipated to open – were there any unique challenges in getting the venue ready?

Delayed openings are very common in our industry, it’s very rare a building sticks to its original completion date because you are bound to incur issues along the way. In our case, it pushed us back months. The main issue we faced was the sheer age of the pub – it was originally constructed in 1829 and has stood ever since.

There has been minor refurbishments made but not on the scale that we undertook. Building aspects like installing the wine attic upstairs was problematic because the beams weren’t strong enough to withstand the weight of all the wine fridges upstairs, so we had to change these for steel. Also roof tiles had to be changed and redesigned due to rotting and age.

What were the main considerations you took into account when designing the menu for the Oxford Blue?

Our location on the corner of the Great Park in Windsor, Berkshire, combined with my love for game – it was quite easy to see the direction I wanted to head in. A few months after I bought the site, I was drinking next door at another local pub and was discussing with the landlord how I could get hold of the amazing game that was shot in the park. Ironically, the head gamekeeper Peter Clayton drinks there so I was introduced to him and over the next 18 months we began to build a strong friendship.

Due to TV and tunnel vision, people today automatically think of strong flavours and tough meat when you mention the 'G' word but I want to change that idea that sticks in the public's mind because this isn’t the case at all. The deer are culled at a young age so the meat is amazingly tender and has no real ‘gamey’ flavours at all. I’m sure if I did a blindfolded taste test, most people would not be able to tell the different between a perfectly cooked piece of red deer and a piece of beef fillet. The Oxford Blue menu will be seasonal, so spring we will introduce lamb and asparagus and the summer would be lobster Thermidor and other seafood dishes. 

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