Bray in Berkshire comes to Oxshott in Surrey in the form of the rejuvenated community dining pub, The Victoria. This is the first independent venture of Matt Larcombe, former Head Chef at Heston Blumenthal’s The Crown, and Simon King who was a senior operational manager for Heston’s Group.
Together they have modernised and extended The Victoria in this prosperous town in leafy Surrey. Inside, low beams, panelling, banquettes and an open fire in winter make for a comfortable, cosy experience. There is also a bar area for those who just come to drink. Outside, the spacious terraced garden seating is ideal for alfresco dining.
Chef Director Matt Larcombe’s extensive experience also includes working with acclaimed chefs such as Michael Wignall, Paul Kitching, Adam Wesley and Ashley Palmer-Watts. Their distilled influences, along with his own creativity, have resulted in an innovative cooking style that embraces both classical and contemporary techniques. Invention is moderated by a shrewd culinary acumen, resulting in well balanced, harmonious combinations. Menu descriptions are terse in the current fashion, listing the main ingredients with no indication of how they are cooked, often giving the diner a welcome surprise when the dish is presented.
Steaks from the grill, along with a special Bordelaise sauce have been a mainstay of the menu. Pub classics such as fish and triple cooked chips, which are retained all year round, are found alongside modern vegetarian options such as roasted cauliflower steak with torched corn and coriander salad. Fish features prominently, on the day we visited featured a sharing dish of Day boat plaice with beurre noisette, capers, cucumber and Jersey royals.
Prices are realistic for food at this level, given the impeccable quality of ingredients, more of which is being sourced locally, and the undoubted skill in cooking by a team of six. Covers are limited to a maximum of 65-70 to ensure consistency and quality.
The a la carte menu features three “snacks”, £5 to £8; six starters, £9 to £17;
seven mains: £19 to £27; and three steaks from the charcoal grill, £ 23 to £125 for salt chamber tomahawk steak for two. Sides are £6-£7; and four desserts, £9 to £15 and a selection of British cheese at £13.
There is also a good value three course lunch, with options in each course.
Fine Dining Guide visited on a busy weekday lunch in mid-June. We chose dishes from the a la carte menu.
A good first impression was made by the Linseed sourdough, sourced from a small artisan bakery in Horsham. This is a good example of using personal /local contacts to ensure top quality produce. The bread had a good crust and great flavour, with creamery butter being cultured and hand churned.
A “snack” of deep-fried oysters encased in a light and crisp batter came with a dip of herby seaweed mayonnaise. The bivalve retained its essential creamy brininess under the delicate crust. A more traditional offering was the sweet and savoury classic of devils on horseback, featuring plump juicy pitted prunes wrapped in crisp salty bacon.
The preparation of the signature starter of mushroom parfait with sweet and sour onions revealed the creativity and labour intensity of this deeply flavoured, silky textured, dish. Humble button mushrooms are caramelised for an hour until completely dry and added to a reduction of port, brandy, shallots and garlic for the stock base, as with any classical recipe. More stock is chilled, frozen, defrosted then passed through muslin, the filtered juices producing an intense jelly, a process taking 24-48 hours. This gives extra richness to this essentially earthy dish, which is balanced by the sweetness and astringency of caramelised red onions. Visually stunning with its white frill of finely sliced mushrooms, the parfait was partnered with buttery toasted brioche. This dish, brilliant in conception and accomplished in execution, could become a modern classic.
Another attractively presented starter featured salt chamber aged beef tartare made with the more flavoursome sirloin, (rather than the usual fillet), cut larger for a firmer texture which was also helped by the rich fat. Precise seasoning, crucial in this dish, allowed the natural beefy flavour to shine, while creamy richness was provided by yolk from Burford brown eggs which had been steamed for 16 hours. Crispy onion rings – why haven’t chefs thought of this before? – gave relief from the softer textures. Here was another classic starter taken to higher level by a few judicious adjustments.
Sous vide is an overused and sometimes inappropriate method for cooking. Here, however, it was successfully used to cook a main course of free-range chicken breast which retained its moist texture and delicate flavour. A crumble of bacon sauteed in butter gave contrasting texture and also acted as a seasoning. Pea puree and grilled gem lettuce added freshness to complement the savoury elements. Overall, this was a well balanced, cleanly presented dish, confirming the dictum that “less is more.”
A pan-fried fillet of seabream was perfectly timed to produce crisp skin and soft, moist flesh. A smooth, red pepper coulis and chargrilled spring onions worked in perfect harmony with their sweet and smoky flavours and contrasting textures. Squid came in two preparations: chargrilled strips supporting the fish fillet, and deep-fried tentacles mixed with the accompanying heritage tomato salad. This elegant, summery dish was perfect for those who preferred a lighter main course.
Sides of triple cooked chips and purple sprouting broccoli tossed in toasted almond butter were deftly executed.
The pastry section, led by Tracey Rutt, whose CV includes experience at The Fat Duck and Cliveden House, demonstrated its skill and sophistication, producing inventive and playful desserts.
First amongst these was The Victoria, inspired by the restaurant’s name and the classic sponge named after the queen, not that you would recognise it as such. Instead, a globe of crisp white chocolate, sandwiched with pastry cream and strawberry jam, encased the classic sponge, a silky strawberry sorbet and lime gel. This inspired confection, embracing contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures, transformed a popular if uninteresting afternoon tea favourite, into a spectacular, memorable dessert.
Equally impressive was a play on rhubarb and custard. This layered construction comprised a Breton sable topped with rhubarb compote, an unmoulded free standing crème brûlée crowned with a rhubarb sorbet dressed with a rhubarb tuile. Each of these elements was crafted with consummate skill, from the textured biscuit and intensely flavoured compote, to the rich, smooth custard with crisp caramelised crust and velvety sorbet with its lace like tuile.
A well risen soufflé which retains height and has a light, dry texture is difficult to achieve even in the finest kitchens. Not here. The flavoursome banana souffle exhibited all these qualities in full, being enhanced by candied banana chips for a contrasting texture, a rum caramel syrup and an exemplary vanilla ice cream.
Good coffee and knowledgeable, seamless service by a young front of house team completed a memorable meal.
With its refined yet relaxed ambience, its well-judged price point and, most importantly, its distinguished food offering, The Victoria has already made its mark on the well-heeled, discerning diners of Oxshott. As word spreads, it will become more than a “community pub”, no doubt attracting those from further afield. Simon King, who led the front of house throughout our visit, has a wealth of experience – not just most recently in the senior management ranks of Heston Blumenthal but previously having worked his way up through the ranks of Gordon Ramsay Group to Group Operations Director. Such experience coupled with business insight and knowledge of hospitality bodes well for The Victoria. Fine Dining Guide hopes to return and will follow its fortunes with interest.