I have to admit, I didn’t think I’d be reviewing Sturdy’s Castle any time soon. Not that there’s anything wrong with the well known spud pub outside Kidlington, Tackley and Woodstock, but it’s not exactly fine dining.
And yet news that it had recently been taken over by famous Indian chef Krishnapal Negi, who’s apparently cooking up a storm in the kitchen, could not be ignored.
I was confused though when I looked at the menus online because while Krishna’s curry menu is short and to the point, you could also opt for the more extensive main menu featuring the likes of fish and chips, gammon and pineapple, pizza, scampi, sausage & mash, and steak.
But how would Krishna’s hybrid menu work?
‘we arrived to dine at Sturdy’s Castle for the first time in decades on Saturday night’
We risked it anyway, arriving to dine at Sturdy’s Castle for the first time in decades on Saturday night. It’s a comfortable sort of space – the lodge-like decor of wooden beams and carpeted dining room accommodating its many overnight guests, no one batting an eyelid that some tables were were eating refined curry and others burgers.
We were offered both menus; the Indian version short and to the point. Here less is more.
Neither were the Indian dishes particularly adventurous, and yet historically he has gone in all guns blazing, launching the Michelin starred Tangawizi in Richmond in 2004, known for its innovative menus and famous clientele such as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and George Clooney apparently, and then his ‘unique style’ at ‘1947 London’ until 2022.
‘the other diners gazed on in envy, regretting their ham, egg and chips as a waft of intricate biryani spicing filled the air’
Not so at Sturdy’s Castle, but it made ordering much easier, especially as there were four of us – with only five starters, six mains and four sides to choose from – papadums with mango and herb chutneys, onion bhajis and a mushroom tikki (£7) to start.
No one had any idea what a mushroom tikki was but we ordered it anyway, the towering medley of generous slices of wild mushroom mixed with a tomatoey chickpea masala, tamarind and yoghurt arrived prickled with pomegranates and crispy onions – a cosmopolitan and heady mix of texture, flavour and taste sensations. Really unusual.
‘Krishna and MR g now have four country pubs under their belts, with a fifth opening in London soon’
The dips with the papadums (served as tiny circles like crisps) were equally delicious – especially the herb dip which was a vibrant piquant green. The onion bhajis, often so limp and tasting of soap, here were crunchy on the outside and soft, spicy and sleek inside.
The lamb rogan josh (£15) was delicious, rich and tender, but could have been more spicy, (it’s definitely tourist strength heat here). The butter chicken (£15) was equally well received – juicy; the sauce fragrant with spices, deep with flavour.
‘Krishna’s famous clientele have apparently included Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and George Clooney’
But it was the chicken biryani (£17) that took the biscuit, cooked as a pie, the pie top peeled off in front of you to expose the yellow spicy rice and chicken within which could easily have fed two. It was quite a theatrical trick, the other diners gazing on in envy, regretting their ham, egg and chips as a waft of intricate biryani spicing filled the air.
it would have been nice to have the option of a veggie main course rather than large sides, (why not a vegetable biryani as well?) but the £12 pindi chole (chickpeas cooked with onion, garlic and spices) was really moreish; its unusual, slightly bitter combination of spicing served almost dry, was adored by all of us, as was the yellow dal tadka (£10) silky smooth and oozing with garlic and sauce.
The heavenly dripping garlic naan was thin and almost crispy, although the pomegranate raita lacked, well, pomegranate.
It’s not cheap here mind – £15 for a curry with rice for another £4, but it was really good, if you want to eat curry in a pub.
‘Krishna now has four country pubs under his belt, with a fifth opening in London soon’
Apparently we do though, Krishna now having four similar premises under his belt, some as far afield as Rutland. Mr G, the manager, who came to talk to us afterwards, said that he and Krishna are opening a fifth in London soon, so the whole hybrid model is working well for them, their customers seemingly enjoying the choice.
Perhaps it’s also because Krishna serves authentic North Indian food, (which is where he is from), most Indian food in curry restaurants being Bangladeshi. His chefs are Indian too, trained to cook both menus, hence the authenticity.
Either way, unlikely as it sounds, Sturdy’s Castle is now a good place for a curry, so make hay while the sun shines.
Sturdy’s Castle, Banbury Road, Kidlington. OX5 3EP. https://www.sturdyscastleoxford.com