Katherine MacAlister eats in the bar instead of the restaurant at The Holt Hotel – and she admits it’s a big mistake

‘Hello,” I called, walking stealthily through the darkened bar. “Anybody there?” A resounding silence met my questions, a wall of indifference, a sign of things to come. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, so I perched myself on a chintz armchair and waited. Waited for what, I have no idea. In fact the only person I’d viewed since setting foot in The Holt Hotel was the receptionist, who, when asked if we could have lunch there, said vaguely that I could go through ‘but there’s no one there’, despite it being 1pm.

She was right, no staff, no customers, no one. Eventually my friend arrived, peered in, and was as stunned by the silence and emptiness as I was. I found a plastic menu on a nearby table and flicked through grimacing. I wondered what vegetarian spaghetti bolognaise was.

Eventually we heard a clinking noise from behind the bar, even though it was still bathed in darkness, and wandering through I found a chap who looked like he might know what was going on. “Can we get something to eat?” I asked. “Yes I can take your order, what would you like?” “A drink would be a good start,” I managed.

He came over, and as all of the tables in the lounge area were below knee level, it seemed like that kind of place to order tea, which arrived not long after in one of those aluminium teapots that burn your fingers and leak everywhere, made harder by the fact it was below my knees.

“And what would you like to eat?” our waiter continued, as if unaware of the bizarreness of the circumstances. We both looked at each other in bemusement. “If you want to go, now would be the time to do it,” my friend whispered. “I’ve never seen you look so uncomfortable in a restaurant anywhere before, even when that chef chased you across the car park,” she continued.

Never one to leave a sinking ship, I persevered, because who knows, there might have been a gem of a chef in the kitchen desperate to show off his/her cooking skills to an absent audience. “Is the spaghetti something like an arrabiata?” I asked hopefully. “No, madam, it’s Quorn,” he said, sealing this review’s fate for ever. Maybe at home, if you’re desperate, but never in a restaurant surely?

Should we stick to the sandwiches,” my friend said even more nervously. Instead we tempted fate by ordering the chicken, bacon and avocado salad and the mushrooms in tomato sauce with mozzarella, before sitting back in chintz splendour.

It was at that point that I noticed an open door at the end of the room which had a sign outside, as if for a business meeting. On closer perusal it was a menu for the Du Vall’s Restaurant. I didn’t even notice that there was a separate restaurant and it certainly hadn’t been mentioned by either the receptionist or our waiter. However, on peering at the desolate table inside where a group of work colleagues were wading through a formal three-course meal that included fanned melon, I was glad I hadn’t.

And so we waited, our food eventually arriving and being placed at ankle height with the tea, so that we either had to lift the entire plate up to head height and eat it from there – hard when there’s a bowl of mushrooms on a plate and garlic bread – or lean down and bring each mouthful up to our mouth with our other hand underneath in case of spillages. A ridiculous way to expect people to dine.

The food wasn’t as bad as we expected. The salad was fresh at least, and dressed, with huge ungainly accompanying chips. The mushrooms had a sort of thick, meaty, goulash sauce with slices of mozzarella that had melted a bit but weren’t grilled, rendering them elastic and inedible. The garlic bread came in slices. Not a success as a dish then. “I don’t cook but I think I could have done a better job myself,” my friend said mournfully.

At this point I expected The Rocky Horror Picture Show cast to come dancing through the door asking me to do the timewarp again, but when they didn’t we declined dessert and on asking for the bill were told we needed to pay at reception. Lunch cost £17.85 and as we burst back outside, gulping in the fresh air, blinking in the daylight, we resolved never to go back.

“It was an experience,” my friend said as we dissected the meal several days later, “and as a business hotel I’m sure it’s great. But promise me one thing. Next time we go out for lunch I’m choosing the location.”

The Holt Hotel
Oxford Road
Near Steeple Aston
OX25 5QQ
01869 340259

Opening times: Lunch noon-2pm, dinner 7pm-10pm
Parking: For 200 cars
In ten words: More for corporate perhaps, weddings, conferences, not for passing trade.