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Review: The Randolph Hotel Oxford, booked for £36 in the Graduate Hotels flash sale

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This is our review of The Randolph Hotel in Oxford.

We couldn’t resist checking out the hotel after writing about the Graduate Hotels flash sale last week, where £300+ hotel nights were on sale for £30+VAT. Rob managed to find a Monday night stay that priced at £36 so off I went to see what HfP readers who got this deal can expect.

(If you are an email subscriber, you never saw this offer. We only found out about it on Wednesday morning, when we quickly wrote an extra article, and the sale launched at 5pm. All £30 rooms disappeared within an hour or so. The two UK hotels covered were Graduate Oxford, reviewed here, and Graduate Cambridge, the ex-DoubleTree.)

Randolph Hotel Oxford

Previously part of Macdonald Hotels, The Randolph re-opened as a Graduate Hotel in Autumn 2021 after a nine-month renovation, transforming the staid interiors and bringing a bit of life into the 1866 Victorian Gothic building.

The hotel website is here.

Where is The Randolph Hotel in Oxford?

On the corner between the Ashmolean and Balliol College, as it turns out:

Randolph Oxford location

It is a short, half-mile, 11 minute walk from the train station, whilst the high street and the majority of historic colleges are just a stroll away.

Inside The Randolph Hotel

The public spaces inside the hotel are fabulous. Immediately on your left as you enter is a small, cosy vaulted lobby bar called the Morse Bar (Colin Dexter was a regular, apparently, and several episodes were filmed here in the 80s.)

Randolph Hotel Oxford Morse Bar

The heart of the hotel is the grand staircase, with reception at the foot:

Randolph Hotel Oxford reception

College crests are suspended from the third floor right down the middle of the staircase which made it feel very Harry Pottery. Here is the view from the top:

Randolph Hotel Oxford grand staircase

There is also two lovely light drawing rooms to the right of the staircase with plenty of seating to work or relax from. I ended up spending a couple of hours writing here:

Randolph Hotel Oxford drawing room

and

Randolph Hotel Oxford drawing room (2)

Check in was quick and easy and I was given ‘student ID’ themed keycards:

Randolph Hotel Oxford keycard

My room was on the third floor. You can either walk up the grand staircase or take one of the two lifts, but these are quite slow and one is very small.

Rooms at The Randolph Hotel

I was given a ‘graduate double executive’ room which I believe is the entry-level double room. Some cheaper ‘classic single’ rooms are also available for the solo traveller – oddly these are marked as 27 sq m which would make them easily big enough for a double bed.

As I was staying on a £36 rate I think I was probably given one of the worst rooms in the hotel – you’ll see why in a moment – although it was still very good. If you are staying on a normal rate, I would hope that you will get a better room than this.

Here it is:

Randolph Hotel Oxford room

I’ve pumped up the brightness in the photo but, as you can see, it is fairly dark. This is because there is only a small window facing a wall just one metre away. Here was the view:

Randolph Hotel Oxford view

This meant that, no matter the time of day, it always felt like a winter evening. Apart from sleeping and watching TV I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend much time during the day here, which is why I decamped to the drawing room on the ground floor with my laptop.

Other than that, the room is great, if a little small. The design aesthetic is ‘more is more’ based on the huge variety of chintz!

Immediately to the right of the door is a small desk complete with old-fashioned telephone and Vertuo Nespresso coffee machine:

Randolph Hotel Oxford desk

This is the first time I’ve stayed at a hotel with the newer Vertuo machines. They work by spinning the coffee pod very quickly – it’s meant to be better or something – so both the pods and the machine are larger than your average hotel Nespresso machine.

Bizarrely, I had to hunt for a coffee cup, spoon etc which were all in the wardrobe, rather than near or next to the coffee machine.

Next to the desk is the double bed:

Randolph Hotel Oxford bed

There are big, wooden bedside tables on both sides, as well as room light controls. On the right hand side you have a two gang socket with USB plugs:

Randolph Hotel Oxford bedside

Plus an Alice in Wonderland inspired bedside lamp:

Randolph Hotel Oxford white rabbit light

Opposite the bed is the TV and some storage:

In the corner, by the window, you have another small round table and armchair:

Randolph Hotel Oxford armchair

Whilst, on the other side, is a small wardrobe with safe, ironing board, kettle etc.

Randolph Hotel Oxford wardrobe

The bathroom is in a small nook behind the TV. It is, admittedly, small – just big enough for one person, with a shower but no bath:

Randolph Hotel Oxford bathroom (2)

and

Randolph Hotel Oxford bathroom

Toiletries are by Malin+Goetz, which I like, in wall-mounted dispensers:

Randolph Hotel Oxford toiletries

So, all in all, a small room but the designers have managed to cram a lot in. Too much, perhaps? I would have removed the round table and armchair in the corner and shifted the desk into that space, opening up the room slightly.

I also found it quite warm, and whilst there are air conditioning controls, I’m not sure this was switched on properly because it was set to 16 degrees, which it definitely wasn’t. I run quite warm at night and ended up opening my sash window as far as it went and still could have done with a lighter duvet.

Breakfast at The Randolph Hotel Oxford

Breakfast is served in the main hotel restaurant, called The Alice (I’ll give you three guesses why ….)

Randolph Hotel Oxford the alice

It is a really nice space, with huge windows on two sides flooding the space with light:

Randolph Hotel Oxford alice bar

and

Randolph Hotel Oxford the alice (2)

It took a moment to get seated – the staff kept us waiting longer than I think was really necessary, although I understand they’re busy.

You have several options for breakfast. You can either go for a continental buffet, a cooked & continental buffet or order from a small number of a la carte options (including eggs benedict etc).

I went for the buffet, which was laid out very nicely across two rooms. Here is the continental section:

Randolph Hotel Oxford continental buffet

With pastries, cold cuts of ham, cheese, yoghurt and fruit:

Randolph Hotel Oxford continental breakfast

The cooked buffet was in the next door room, and featured scrambled and fried eggs, sausages, streaky bacon, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, waffles and pancakes.

Randolph Hotel Oxford hot buffet

There were no baked beans but I did get some after I asked. Here is what I had:

Randolph Hotel Oxford full English

It was a good breakfast although I thought the set up was a bit confusing. For example, my first choice would have been to have eggs royale and a croissant, but the only way to do that was to pay for the whole continental buffet – even though I only wanted one item.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of history in Oxford, and The Randolph is a big part of it, so it’s no surprise that American-owned Graduate Hotels has hammed it up. It does occasionally feel like you’re walking into Hogwarts – or at least, a theme park version of Hogwarts – a sort of pastiche Oxford that only exists in American tourist’s imagination.

Not that I’m complaining. I think it’s quite fun, and it reminded me a lot of Hyatt’s Great Scotland Yard hotel (review here), which also goes all-in on with its Sherlock Holmes theme.

The challenge is to convert a heritage building, with all the foibles of a 156-year old building including weirdly shaped rooms, sloping corridors and the rest, and turn it into a five star hotel. Clearly, that’s not always possible: whilst I was perfectly happy with the room I had given that we paid £36, you would probably be miffed with the lack of natural light if you paid £200+.

Overall, the hotel is impressive – Graduate Hotels has done an excellent job with the design, which feels extremely modern but without forgetting the hotel’s history.

You can find out more, and book, on the hotel website here. If you missed out on the flash sale you can still get 30% off by using the promo code ‘MORESUMMER’.


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Comments (60)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • John T says:

    That wallpaper and the carpet makes my feel ill.
    It’s like you’re staying in grandma’s spare room.

    • TimM says:

      My very first thoughts too. They gave me vertigo.

      • Manya says:

        The whole set up looks like an assault on the senses.

    • Tariq says:

      Agreed, looks truly horrendous.

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      Nice to see something different rather than attempting to be as nondescript as possible to offend nobody. Lets face it, one of the downsides of points maximisation is that, with a few exceptions that prove the rule, points = chain hotels = bland and samey.

    • Lindsay East says:

      I entirely agree. I stay here every year, visiting my old college, and while the old Randolph was a bit tired, the rooms, etc were fine. One result of all this kitsch is the price. For last Saturday I was quoted £400 for a small single room, with a single bed!! Surprisingly, I opted to have my mini car driver pick me up for £100.

      • JDB says:

        My father who was at Oxford in the late 1940s says his parents, when they visited him, complained the hotel was rather tired then! It seems that it has been a faded grandeur sort of place for a long time.

    • Ivan Korichnevyy says:

      Agreed – that wallpaper would give me headache !!

  • Susan says:

    So nice to see public spaces with some light and colour rather than the dour “modern” darkness beloved by so many designers.

  • Ryan says:

    I stayed here for £36 on Sunday evening. Nice, boutique hotel. We didn’t get a view either, although our chair and desk looked much nicer in green leather Chesterfield style. Picture decorations relate to Oxford alumni and a framed note from c1645 that they’d obviously acquired from an auction. The shower worked well. Bicycles were available to lend. A marvellous deal. I watched the Championship final at O’Neils around the corner where my team Nottingham Forest won Premiership promotion so that was an added bonus too!

  • TimM says:

    “a sort of pastiche Oxford that only exists in American tourist’s imagination”
    American companies are very good at that. Take Cunard, supposedly an English ocean liner company with 163 years of history, transformed into a Disney version of British ocean liners but they don’t even know how to fry an egg – it has to be the “over-easy” [sic] if you don’t want the top of the yolk raw – and American men wear kilts on formal nights.

    Mind you I do have concerns for Rob wanting “eggs royale and a croissant” for breakfast. Perhaps that comes from being a metropolitan too near France? Breakfast is the most revealing meal. I have a policy of never the same thing twice. At 55 years old, that is becoming quite a challenge 🙂

  • Gemma says:

    That does not look like a £300 bedroom to me. The wallpaper is a choice…

  • Charlie T. says:

    This place is so over the top that I’m honestly surprised that check-in isn’t called “matriculation” and check out “graduation”. The decor is very much in fashion now meaning it will look very dated very quickly when things change.

  • JG says:

    It was Rhys staying – eggs royale is his favourite breakfast dish iirc 🙂

    • TimM says:

      Correction noted, thank you. Still, eggs royale and a croissant? After a while living in Milan, I could not imagine gentleman’s shoes without tassels. I hate to imagine what cultural influences have worked on Rhys.

    • Rhys says:

      The thing about eggs royale is that I think it is a good barometer of a hotel breakfast. I don’t always have it but I will often have it at least once per stay.

      It also helps that it is always an a a la carte option rather than buffet, which I prefer, as it is freshly cooked.

      • TimM says:

        As yardsticks are about to return, by all accounts, I recently wrote about my yardsticks for Turkish hotel breakfast buffets:
        “is there a good choice of dried and fresh fruit including apricots, figs & bananas, strained (‘Greek’) yogurt, choice of fresh fruit juices (either self-pressed, with charge or included), menemen (scrambled eggs with with tomatoes, peppers, garlic & spice) and an ‘a la moment’ omelette station without queue plus delicious coffee served to the table.” I doubt the Randolph would fair very well by these criteria and I have never paid more than £35/night, all-inclusive for a sole-occupancy double room in a good five-star. Not in 23 years and counting.

  • Mike says:

    Is that a pain au chocolat in the middle of your full English???

    • Rhys says:

      …yes…

      • PerkyPat says:

        Thought it was a Greggs sausage roll.

      • Mike says:

        That’s just wrong… you need a separate plate! It always freaks me out in the US when Americans add a spoonful of fruit salad on their savoury hot breakfast plate!

        • AJA says:

          My freak out moment was at a former job when a Korean expat added custard to his kimchee for lunch thinking it was some white sauce. Intriguingly he continued to eat the food on his plate even when he discovered the truth. I suppose he thought it was sweet and sour.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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