Paul Clerehugh is well placed to tout the wonders of Oxford, having saved The Crooked Billet from dilapidation before transforming it into a hangout for the wealthy and the prosperous. Since Paul took control of the building in 1989, the reformed pub has welcomed a myriad of musicians, actors and politicians through its doors – even playing host to Kate Winslet’s 1998 wedding reception.
And he is indeed more than happy to tout them, as we found out when we caught up with him for the foreword to our 2017 edition of the Oxfordshire Food & Drink Guide. He proudly points out that the region holds 26 Michelin Guide recommendations, along with four Michelin stars. Additionally, it’s a hotspot for Britain’s gastropubs, with some of the country’s finest foodie pubs sitting in some pretty remote parts of the county.
‘We’re also England’s most innovative wine producers.’ He lets us in on a lesser-known fact about the region. ‘Don’t pass up the chance to try Barbara Laithwaite’s sparkling Wyfold wine, produced through the traditional Champagne method with Chardonnay, pinot noir, and meunier grapes.’
All of this success, from Paul’s hard work at The Crooked Billet to the region’s many, many fine establishments, ultimately stems from Oxfordshire’s rural setting and agricultural heritage. ‘Farming is the beating heart of Oxfordshire’, he says. ‘A patchwork of fields including rapeseed, poppy, corn and barley make up the stunning scenery. With 75 per cent of our land dedicated to agriculture, we are the South East’s most rural county. This regional produce writes my menu.’
Paul lets us in on another somewhat surprising fact about Oxford’s contribution to the culinary arts – it’s rumoured that in the 19th century, Oxford’s Varsity College was the actual birthplace of the brunch. It’s certainly something that Oxford’s restaurateurs have taken to heart – ‘you’re never far from a good plate of food’ Paul says. ‘Come and sample Oxfordshire sausages coupled with fried duck’s egg on sourdough with a shake of Oxford sauce, or kedgeree with Brookleas’ Farm smoked trout. Also, Dan DeGustibus’ incredible artisan bakery in Abingdon is the perfect place for a round of toast, topped with Frank Cooper’s marmalade.’
For more on Paul’s The Crooked Billet or any of the great places named here (along with quite a few more) check out our 2017 Oxfordshire Food and Drink Guide, available in print here. Don’t forget that all of the featured pubs are listed on the handy app too, which you can download for Android or iOS. Take Paul’s word for it – there’s a whole world of culinary delight to be discovered in this fine county.