Makeovers: they're all the rage. Take a grand old hotel and do something oh-so-aching-moderne with the décor that it eclipses much of the original elegance. Not so with The Randolph, but sadly in this case, more would in fact be more.
Last year, this landmark hotel was promoted to AA Five Star status in recognition of both its service and its recent renovations, including the addition of a spa. Investment or no, the new look resembles the holdings of a fusty old dowager who has neither the money nor the vision to revive her rambling property.
The building still has that lovely old creaky-floored warmth and high, oft- vaulted corridors that fittingly suggest the residence of a university don, but it suffers from decorative improvements that either don't go far enough or miss the atmospheric mark completely.
In my room a small nod to the contemporary was made by a rich purple throw and shiny teal chaise longue – incongruous with the otherwise middle-of-the-road-corporate decor. As far as makeover inspiration goes this was hardly Grand Designs.
Meanwhile, more obvious improvements go wanting. Guests climbing The Randolph's grand central staircase are privy to a "backstage" view of the hotel's dowdy admin offices due to an inadequate screen, and the institutional smell of food that hovers in the stairwell entirely misrepresents the restaurant's good cuisine.
There is nothing very "wrong" with any of it (Macdonald Hotels, which owns the property, would never stray far from the inoffensive) but a great opportunity to revitalise a fabulous old address has been missed.
I stayed in a junior suite, which unlike many "suites" these days had a good-size lounge area entirely closed off from the bedroom. The usual suspects are presented: Molton Brown by way of freebie toiletries (in all but the Classic Twins, which have the hotel chain's own brand); chocolates (suites only); fluffy robes; and slippers.
The Food and Drink
You could do worse than have a trad G&T in the Morse Bar and follow it with an even more traditional dinner in the dining room. Speed-read the tome-like wine list while drinking champers in old-fashioned cut glass flutes and dine on two-AA-Rosette-winning staples such as cream of asparagus soup, roast Côte de Boeuf (for two) and roast partridge.
With the Morse Bar and lovely old Drawing Room favoured for drinks and afternoon tea, the Chapters bar has lately been put to better use as a spa. This gothic vaulted cellar, now painted deep blue, is candle lit and scattered with Eastern ornaments to provide a compact and restful spa space that includes four treatment rooms, a thermal suite and relaxation room.
The ground floor is accessible for people with disabilities, and two rooms have been accordingly modified. Children are welcome.
Junior Suites cost from £249 per night, Classic Twins from £129 room only.
Macdonald Randolph Hotel, Beaumont Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1 2LN (0844 879 9132; randolph-hotel.com )
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