Some people will say that your student years are the best of your life. Whether there’s any truth in that or not, you can relive them at this first-class hotel in the heart of Oxford, designed with nods to notable alumni from the famous university.
The Randolph Hotel, right next to the Ashmolean Museum and Balliol College, has been around since the mid-nineteenth century, but was taken over and given a uni-style makeover in 2019 by a Chicago-based company that runs various other graduate-style hotels in the US and in Cambridge.
Theme-wise, they really go in for it: Oscar Wilde’s portrait looks over your bed as you sleep, Lewis Carroll-inspired lampshades take pride of place on bedside tables and large college crests hang in the stairwell. And while the gaudy, Victorian-style decor (OTT wallpaper, clashing curtains and carpet, the lot), might not be to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying that the attention to detail is impressive. There are even gimmicky key cards for the guest rooms, designed as the student IDs of celebrated alumni like Stephen Hawking and T.S. Eliot (we were half expecting to have to do an entrance exam at check-in).
The Alice, the main restaurant, is an ‘Alice and Wonderland’-themed affair, nodding to the author (and Oxford grad) Lewis Carroll. It comes complete with playful paintings of characters like the Cheshire Cat, sparkly chandeliers and Sketch-style pink seating, plus a stunning bar that looks like something out of ‘The Great Gatsby’. The menu focuses on contemporary British dishes, with a slant towards fish and beef – we recommend the whole plaice with samphire and brown shrimp butter, and the parmesan tart with pickled mushrooms for veggies.
Once you get over all of the institutional pomp, the hotel itself is a stunning and convenient base for a weekend away. Just over an hour’s train ride from London, it’s slap-bang in the city centre, and very near all the historic attractions, pubs and restaurants. The front rooms look out over the gorgeous Neoclassical Ashmolean, while all of the public areas are airy, high-ceilinged and grandly furnished. Full marks.
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