I f I needed to sum up my reaction to a recent evening spent at Oxford's Randolph Hotel in just one word, it would be lukewarm'. From the food to the service, everything was under par, which was a shame, because I really wanted to like the Randolph.

I worked in the restaurant myself when I was a student, doling out rolls with a spoon and fork, frowning in concentration and working far harder than I ever did at my studies. And, as the Randolph has just become Oxford's first five-star rated hotel - as rated by the AA - I was genuinely excited about dining out in style.

There aren't many establishments left where silver service is the name of the game, and now and again it is hugely refreshing to dip in and out of such refinement.

But if that is your niche, you have to do it properly. Silver service means impeccable attention to detail and being waited on hand and foot. It is about second-guessing your customer and knowing what they want before they actually tell you. This, for me, is where the Randolph slipped up. I could sense the ghosts of hotel patrons past shaking their heads in dismay.

It was a Friday night when we visited. My parents know the current maitre d', Guiseppe Vurchio, who is always winning awards for his boundless charm, so we took them along.

The dining room, which overlooks Magdalen Street, is hushed, airy and classic. There's no doubt which city you are in - University college coats of arms adorn the cornices.

We had dressed for the occasion, unlike the majority of other diners, most of whom were in jeans, which I thought was a shame - a dress code seems appropriate for this kind of establishment - and were seated at a large table by the window.

There were two menus, the a la carte and table d'hote - the latter being marginally cheaper at £29.50 for three courses. We ordered, chose our wine and then sat back and waited, soaking up the atmosphere.

The somellier brought the right wine - but only in a half bottle - so we had to send it back. She placed our bottle in a bucket a good distance from the table - and then disappeared for large stretches of the evening.

When we did manage to catch a waitress's eye and explain that we were dying of thirst, she went off to confer with another waitress - and then there were three of them discussing what to do while we watched in amazement, as our wine sat in its bucket a metre away from our table. Eventually we had to resort to getting up and serving ourselves.

Back to the food. My cream of cauliflower soup with walnuts, parsley and truffle oil was delicious, but warm rather than hot - and more of a taste than a serving, while the smoked halibut and prawn timbale on a bed of cucumber and mustard dressing was tasty but again tiny, and reminiscent of the now unfashionable nouveau cuisine.

We hoped that the mains would make-up for the starters in wintry volume and, having ordered venison, lamb and duck, were looking forward to a banquet.

Eons later, our warm offerings emerged. The leg of lamb was served in a silver domed carving trolley wheeled out with great pomp and ceremony. But when the lid was thrown back the leg looked pitifully tiny in comparison, and the dish was more gastro pub roast than fine dining.

The venison came with wild mushroom, spinach and chestnuts and was pronounced very good, while the duck, which came with sweet potato mash and braised red cabbage, was nice, but didn't set the world on fire.

The warm confit of celeriac, rosti potato, savoy cabbage and root vegetable purée came with a serving of mustard sauce that was so tiny that we requested more.

Sadly, by the time it arrived, the dish had been consumed. This dish was also crying out for something unrelated to autumnal vegetables to balance it out. For £18 it was a disappointment - and we were left staring at our empty plates for too long.

So, on to dessert. The flamboyant Guiseppe was preparing flaming Crêpes Suzette at the tables, so we ordered two of those. We were told there would be a delay - but 35 minutes later we were still waiting for his services.

When Guiseppe finally materialised, all ceremony and charm, we were utterly spellbound. The hot, orangey pancakes were the best part of our meal.

But by then it was 11.15pm, so we decided to cancel coffee and went home to make our own beverages and nibble on some cheese. Yes, I was still hungry - which at £50 a head, with two bottles of very ordinary Chablis, was inexcusable.

A bad night? Maybe.

But in my book five star' requires a certain consistency of service - and, while the hotel has obviously made the grade, the restaurant was far too hit or miss.