MORE than just a hotel, The Randolph is an Oxford institution. The Victorian gothic grande dame of Beaumont Street had always been an endearingly shabby landmark; rough around-the edges but with the gravitas of a classic hotel inexplicably boasting five stars.

Or at least it used to be. Two years ago the 19th century pile was acquired by the American-owned Graduate Hotels and they have transformed the place. Despite initial reservations, the restoration has been - on the whole - sensitive and a huge improvement.

The cosy Morse Bar – the former haunt of the late Colin Dexter – remains, the familiar oak panels untouched, though plastered with perhaps rather too many pictures of John Thaw in sleuth mode. Those non-acquainted with Oxford’s crotchety ale-swilling detective inspector – such as my teenage son who joined me for the evening – will be thoroughly bemused by the shrine to Dexter’s iconic cop. Its magnificent cocktail list, however, is beyond reproach.

Oxford Mail: Randolph Hotel Oxford. Tim Hughes

The jewel in the Randolph’s crown though is its restaurant, renamed The Alice in honour of another enduring Oxford character.

It’s an impressive space. Crystal chandeliers hang from a lofty ceiling of delicately painted panels. There’s a splattering of non-descript art on the walls and appalling shiny, bubblegum pink banquettes topped with brass rails, which would be better suited to a 1950s Midwest diner. But not even the flashes of bad taste detract from the beauty of the elegance of the room and the sense of space – something almost unheard of in pokey British restaurants.

Executive Chef Chris Emery’s menu is French-accented traditional British and more imaginative than I expected given the hotel’s American takeover. And it called for some tough decisions. We kicked off with a very fine chicken and foie gras terrine. This came as a thick disc topped with plum alongside a sweet spongy brioche. The terrine was smooth, bursting with flavour and deeply satisfying. The plum provided the requisite sharpness and acidity without drowning out that warm livery taste. And decent value too at £12.50.

Oxford Mail: OxfordÕs Randolph Hotel 
Picture by Ed Nix

Main courses included 36 day aged rump steak and some strong fish dishes with brill and sea bass, but our heads were turned by the sharing plates which included a fabulous-sounding 50 day-aged cote de beouf (£68).

There was really no choice. This was served medium rare and with satisfying ceremony, carved into thick juicy slices on a platter which would’ve pleased a medieval monarch. It was perfectly cooked and melt-in-the-mouth tender.

It came with a delicious beef fat carrot, roast garlic, greens, a pot of thick and creamy Bearnaise and – best of all – a generous oxtail pie. This bonus treat was an absolute delight. Rich chunks of rich slow-cooked meat so tender they fell apart on the fork, in a thick gravy topped with mashed potato served in a blisteringly hot cast iron pot; a satisfying and nicely executed meal in itself.

Oxford Mail: OxfordÕs Randolph Hotel 
Picture by Ed Nix

We ordered sides of triple cooked chips and tender stem broccoli (both £4). The veg was sweet and tender and balanced out the meat overload. The chips were crisp and golden but, given the size of the enormous platter, were unnecessary and went largely uneaten. It was a royal feast as befitted our grand surroundings.

It went down well with a curiously named Battle of Bosworth Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the name, this did not hail from the vineyards of Leicestershire (though there are a few up there), but, mercifully, from South Australia’s McLaren Vale. Rich and oaky, and bursting with blackberry and plum, it takes its name from winemaker Joch Bosworth and was the perfect partner for the rich beef.

We finished off with a refreshing but pleasingly delicate vanilla buttermilk desert topped with a cheek-suckingly sharp citrus sorbet which was also very good indeed and thankfully light.

Oxford Mail: The ALice at The Randolph Hotel, Oxford. By Tim Hughes

Though it was far from late, we were by then the only people in there. Clearly word of The Alice has yet to spread which, given the standard of cooking and absolutely charming service, it will.

Most Oxford folk have never set foot in The Randolph. With the arrival of The Alice, this is perfect opportunity to change that. Why leave something this good to the tourists?

The Alice is at The Randolph Hotel, Beaumont Street.

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