Anthea Gerrie visits Oxford’s iconic Randolph Hotel following a major refurbishment under new owners, Graduate Hotels.
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 probably never did call it by the brand name Scottish owners imposed on the Randolph before it was rescued and restored to its former glory by new American owners Graduate. The new official name is an even longer mouthful, but a multi-million-pound renovation has been utterly sympathetic, and a shot of youthful energy in new staff keen to show respect to the grande dame of the city of dreaming spires can only enhance the reputation of a thoroughly traditional hostelry reinterpreted for modern times.
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 wood-panelled bar where the great and the good have gathered for generations to the left of a magnificent lobby which still boasts the Gothic arches and grand staircase which have been in place since 1864. That’s when the hotel opened as the first lodgings sufficiently up to scratch for an anticipated royal visit to Oxford; 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 from all over the world to see their offspring graduate from the university. But the Randolph’s killer location, bang opposite the world-class Ashmolean Museum and an easy stroll from all the city’s golden stone landmark buildings, makes it a good bet for any visitor.
No complaints with the subtle redo in Victorian vernacular of rooms leading off the grand central stairwell adorned with more of those grand Gothic arches. Inside, rooms are still traditionally decorated but in bolder hues, with flat-screen TVs and Nespresso machine providing a 21st-century complement to the patterned carpets and chintzy bedspreads channelling the period when the hotel first opened. Our bathroom boasted Victorian-style fixturing, apart from the walk-in shower, which would have benefited from a rainfall showerhead. Great to see the well-positioned make-up mirror which was not part of the offering from previous owners, but a vanity kit, still missing, would have been welcome.
Reception and concierge staff are first class, and the new Alice restaurant, closed by Covid during our visit, is by all reports a vast improvement on its predecessor, which looked spectacular but served dire food in the run-up to the Randolph’s change of ownership. Now bright pastels and playful references to Lewis Carroll’s heroine in the murals have replaced art nouveau elegance, while a buzzy bar at the end has been added to attract a hipper, younger crowd than might feel comfortable in the Morse Bar. This august watering hole is a godsend for dog owners, who can dine here if they don’t want to leave their pooch in a room provided with dog beds and treats upon request.
Our breakfast showed a creditable attempt at locavore provisioning, eggs Benedict sitting atop ham hock sourced, like the bacon, from Oxford’s famous covered market. No surprise that poached eggs on toast with smashed avocado have also joined the menu, although one can only imagine what the inspector would have had to say about such a modern transgression being added to the bill of fare.
Whatever the time of day, for all fans of the lugubrious police inspector who enjoyed a drink, there’s no greater thrill than sitting in one of the armchairs his creator Colin Dexter once occupied and sipping an excellent cocktail; Oxford artisanal gins, eclectic tonic waters and judicious fruit garnishes make for the perfect libation with which to toast an elegant old lady enjoying a fresh lease of life in a new, vintage-inspired designer ballgown.
Tell Me More About The Randolph Hotel By Graduate Hotels
The Randolph Hotel, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2LN
T: 0344 879 9132
Double rooms from £229