Oxford’s five-star Macdonald Randolph Hotel invited Bitten for a Christmas themed event in their function rooms last week, to celebrate the transformation of its grand ballroom after a £100,000 investment.
The extensive remodel saw the function suite, which can host up to 400 people, undergo a complete refurbishment. The space features three exact replica chandeliers of those on the Titanic, plus customised carpets and wallpaper using the Acanthus leaf, the plant which inspired the name of the hotel’s restaurant. In addition to the main ballroom, the venue has a further four function rooms, with the ability to cater for weddings, corporate events, private dining, exhibitions and conferences.
On arrival, the first thing I noticed was that the service really was excellent. We were greeted, offered drinks, had our coats taken, were offered canapes, refused canapes because they were all made of chicken, and told when non-chicken canapes were due out, all within a couple of minutes. All with great grace. Service has been a bit of an issue when I’ve visited the Randolph before but they really seem to have sorted this out.
When I did get my hands on some vegetarian canapes, they were honestly a little weird. I had an entire sprout on a cocktail stick, stuffed with sun-dried tomato and covered in honey-mustard dressing. This was an odd choice and seemed like a lot of (not universally liked) vegetable for a mouthful. The meat eaters got little pigs in blankets. Can’t I at least have a tartlette or something? The rest of the snacks were very traditional Christmas type things – chicken pate, mince pies, tiny squares of Christmas cake. All perfectly nice.
As well as a choice of prosecco or mulled wine we were made signature cocktails by a lovely member of bar staff, who had invented them, and talked us through the process of making them. I will not repeat the recipe here, but I was struck by the fact that there were no mixers – it was an entirely spirit-based cocktail. It was deeply delicious.
The room itself, decorated to demonstrate, I’m assuming, a high-end corporate party, was lovey. Like the snacks, the theme was super traditional, with a huge tree, a string trio, real candles and some of the best party hats I’ve ever seen. The vibe was solidly Victorian. I liked it.
We were promised sessions on making our own Christmas decorations and mini spa treatments, and these were a bit lacklustre. The florist was lovely, but we were really just standing staring at her while she put together a table centrepiece, and the “mini spa treatments” involved one woman doing hand massages, with a queue so long we didn’t get one.
One of my favourite parts of the evening was a tour of the hotel. We were shown some of the rooms, some options for private dining, the restaurant and bars. The Randolph is undeniably an impressively beautiful building, and the refurbishment after the fire seems to have been done very lovingly (the staff member who took us around could tell us a long story about the acquisition of new wallpaper – he obviously takes pride in getting the details right).
There was however a bit of a half-abandoned air about the place, with almost no one in the main restaurant, despite it being prime dinner time in the lead up to Christmas. There is a really quite lovely looking new cocktail bar that didn’t seem to be open – an odd choice given the time of year. We were also shown a delightful double drawing room (decorated with someone’s private art collection they gave because they couldn’t pay off their bar tab!) which only had one couple in it.
The Macdonald Randolph Hotel is an incredibly beautiful hotel, but there is a lot of choice for high end treats in Oxford. Perhaps in February when the scaffolding comes down the spaces will be more used. Cartoons, the new cocktail bar, looks especially worth a return visit.
For more information on the meetings and events facilities at Macdonald Randolph Hotel please visit www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk.