We caught up with Paul Clerehugh from The Crooked Billet to ask him to introduce our latest Oxfordshire Food & Drink Guide.
Paul has run The Crooked Billet since 1989 and lives on his smallholding nearby, rearing beef and sheep and growing produce for the menu.
A self-taught chef, wanting his own restaurant, he approached the bank for a loan. With only punk rock guitar experience and no security against the loan, unsurprisingly the bank said no. Successfully negotiating a car loan with a second bank, he used the Porsche money to buy The Crooked Billet (unlike a restaurant lease, banks can repossess Porches), choosing The Crooked Billet because not only was it pretty and rustic, but it was also the cheapest place on the market, run down with a tree growing through the floor and out through the ceiling, £500 weekly takings and no hot water.
The rest as they say is history, Paul & his restaurant has gone on to win numerous awards and attracts guests from all over the country. Paul spoke to us about the dining scene in Oxfordshire and how you don’t need to travel far to taste world-class cuisine.
“Many of us travel in search of the best food and cooking the world can offer, from California to Singapore, New York to Dubai, and we are often blown away by new, contemporary cooking and fabulous wines. But why not stop and look at what we have here in Oxfordshire? I’d suggest keeping your slippers on, because I honestly believe we can rival the very best the world has to offer.”
“Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is just as refined as The French Laundry in California, Orwells in Binfield Heath can hold its own against anything in Spain’s San Sebastián region, and Barbara Laithwaite can rival many of the French Champagne houses with her English sparkling wines. Walk into The Jericho Café and you could be in the Hamptons on Long Island. Stroll the Covered Market in Oxford city centre and pick up pies, meat, fish and tangy Oxfordshire cheese like Oxford Blue and Oxford Isis.”
“Even Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles popped by in the summer for a taster of local cheeses, and it seemed as though they thoroughly enjoyed them. The acres of agricultural land in Oxfordshire yield tons of high-quality vegetables. If the local produce wasn’t top-notch I would not use it in my restaurants, The Crooked Billet in Stoke Row and Reading’s London Street Brasserie, but my menus are practically bursting with it.”
“Like The Crooked Billet, The Wild Rabbit at Kingham is free from frippery and fuss. I like Tim Allen’s marinated roast mackerel, local rhubarb, turnip and horseradish, with his delicious iced dill snow dressing. Tim is one of Oxfordshire’s Michelin-starred chefs, along with Michael North and his fabulous team at Nut Tree Inn in Murcott.”
“Al-Shami transports me to the Middle East as though on a magic carpet with a Lebanese feast of hummus, tabbouleh, crunchy fattoush salad and delicately spiced kebabs. The Red Lion at Northmoor is a community pub if ever there was one, and Ian and Lisa who run it also have an admirable kitchen garden.”
Whether you’re a local or a frequent visitor to this lovely county, look to this guide for inspiration and get acquainted with Oxfordshire’s bountiful food scene. A wealth of world-class flavours awaits you. For me, there really is no place like home.