Re-branding an icon is a risky business, and the thousands who passed through the portals of Oxford’s finest hotel before it became a chain establishment are unlikely to start calling it the Macdonald Randolph anytime soon.
Which may be a good thing while this august hostelry, dogged by traumatic events over the past few years, fights to live up to the five-star rating it mostly deserves.
Inspector Morse fans will know the Randolph from episodes set in and around the famous mansion building facing Magdalen Street and St Giles, and the great and the good have gathered for generations in what’s now known as the Morse Bar to the left of a magnificent lobby which still boasts the Gothic arches, chandeliers and dark wood panelling which have been in place since 1864. That’s when the hotel opened as the only lodgings in town up to scratch for an anticipated royal visit; it has since greeted world leaders from Mikhail Gorbachev to Bill Clinton as well as luminaries of the preceding century.
Today the hotel plays host to American and Asian tour groups as well as parents in town for graduations at Oxford University, whose college shields hang in the dining room. But the Randolph’s killer location, bang opposite the world-class Ashmolean museum and an easy walk from all the city’s golden stone landmark buildings with their dreaming spires, makes it a good bet for any visitor.
No complaints with the rooms leading off corridors adorned with more of those grand arches and marble busts which could have been borrowed from the Ashmolean, except for the long walk for most down a rabbit warren. Inside, rooms are suitably elegant – ours had grey and gold heavy brocade curtains, a gold chenille sofa and matching bed throw and a nod to modernity with a contemporary square headboard, flat-screen TV and Nespresso machine. The bathroom was somewhat less grand, and while adequate lacked normal 5-star bathroom accoutrements like a make-up mirror and a vanity kit.
Reception and concierge staff are first class, and only the Acanthus restaurant is in need of serious attention. It certainly looks the part – redecorated in a deep sea-green since a terrible fire tore through the room a few years ago, and hung with magnificent art nouveau chandeliers and oil paintings as well as the aforementioned college shields. Unfortunately, food and service fell short for this reviewer, thanks to the kitchen being short of a head chef and several waiting staff slowing down and losing interest after greeting guests. Breakfast, however, was worth the wait for kippers from a smokery holding a royal warrant; it’s one area where Scotland-based Macdonald scores with access top homegrown suppliers.
The death of a beloved general manager two years ago was cited by a couple of staff members as one reason the Randolph has lost experienced retainers, seemingly struggling to train up replacements to exacting standards. Guests won’t feel a lack of service in their overnight stay but have a right to expect much more – the presence of at least some of the seasonal produce with which Britain is awash in summer on the menu, for example – if choosing to eat in.
Tell me more about the Macdonald Randolph Hotel
Macdonald Randolph Hotel, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2LN
T: 0344 879 9132
Rooms from £200 including breakfast