PROPRIETOR – THE CROOKED BILLET
“My new greatest regret is wasting almost 47 years before discovering The Crooked Billet. The poignancy of all the meals I’ve missed at this little inn, hidden away in picturesque rural Oxfordshire is almost unbearable.”
Paul Clerehugh 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.
Quickly establishing a reputation, Time Out’s ‘Best Out of London’ two consecutive years and entries in all the food guides.
In 1989 the Daily Mail referred to Paul’s hearty rural cooking as Gastro Pub grastronomy, christening The Crooked Billet Britain’s first gastro pub. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that Paul really hit the headlines when feeding bangers and mash to Kate Winslet’s wedding guests. Front page news on every British paper. Paul offered Kate a 20% discount for the second time around but she graciously declined.
In 2000 Paul opened a second restaurant, London Street Brasserie. A contemporary little oasis of friendly service and quality food cooked and served with passion in the heart of Reading, immediately winning critical acclaim, voted restaurant of the year and Michelin recognition.
Today, The Crooked Billet retains the unspoilt rustic country charm that made it famous. A large and varied daily changing menu, specialising in local and British produce – buffalo milk and honey ice-cream (there’s a Buffalo farm next door and Paul keeps bees), beef, lamb, hogget and mutton from Paul’s farm, good seasonal British seafood and a legendary annual lobster festival. A blackboard on the front door encourages guests to swap their home grown delicacies for lunch.
He was a consultant for the second series of Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners programme.
A famous face can often be spotted sitting anonymously soaking up The Crooked Billet atmosphere. Recent sightings of Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Matthew Norman, Jamie Oliver and Antony Worrall Thompson confirm Paul’s ability in the kitchen. Kylie Minogue, Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh, Rowan Atkinson, Deep Purple, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Joanna Lumley, Kate Winslet – to name drop a few more.
Legendary hospitality, rustic big flavours and the rough edges of Paul Clerehugh’s cooking, have earned him an enviable reputation. He deserves his success, gaining it the hard way, not through Ready Steady Cook or publishing, but through great food.
Paul Clerehugh is the second pub chef ever to win the highly coveted Craft Guild of Chefs award. Previous winners include Paul Gayler, Brian Turner, Anton Mosimann and Raymond Blanc.