Proximity to the Westgate Shopping Centre puts Malmaison in the less rarefied end of town. But it's central and in easy walking distance of the train station, bus station, Christchurch (Oxford's cathedral) and the Thames. The immediate surroundings - Oxford Castle - combine historic interest with all the snazzy foodcourt outlets you get with the recent gentrification of British cities. This is Oxford's dockland development.
There are 88 bedrooms made by combining two cells, and knocking through to a third for the bathroom. Windows are mostly quite small, as you might expect in a prison. By contrast the beds are big and comfortable and there's a lot of use of Malmaison's signature high-contrast decorative palette (brown leather, white walls, dark furniture, streaks of red and purple). Most of the rooms are arranged around the superb metal staircase/atrium of A-block, a masterpiece of Victorian design. There are also seven suites named after former governors. Some have their own viewing room. I recently stayed in The Clink, the latest suite with a TV the size of its big leather sofa. The only drawback is that the hotel no longer loans DVDs so bring your own.
The lobby sets a very stylish tone with dramatic colours, high-backed chairs and a sofa area where episodes of Porridge play on a loop. The rest of the hotel doesn't quite match up to expectations raised in the lobby, though the lofty Visitor's Bar is impressively huge and attractively decorated with colour photography of contemporary Oxford. The restaurant is located in the basement of A-block and retains more of a prison feel - not for the claustrophobic! That said, some of the cells have been knocked together to create cosy private dining rooms. In good weather, you can also eat and drink out on the roof.
Eating and drinking
There is an imaginative menu and good, but not cheap, cellar. The house wine is overpriced at £19 a bottle. No menu degustacion but if you're not worried by the bill, be guided by the chef and accept recommendations from your waiter for wines by the glass. Of particular merit are the Iberico Serrano ham with a glass of sherry, entrecote steak with St Hallett shiraz and tiramisu vanilla biscotti with Beaumes de Venise.
None. The gym in the Governor's House was not used and so was recently turned into the Clink. Guests can make use of a nearby LA Fitness for £5 (no membership charge). Ask the concierge to arrange.
Senior staff are on the ball. Everyone dresses in black and they're kept busy. This is not a hotel to relax in! I've had no problems with the restaurant, but friends have reported that the staff may be overstretched at times. Not all the waiters have good English.
Who stays there
International coach parties, well-off parents visiting their student offspring and the occasional very wealthy student.
Double rooms are on a room only basis. The best suites are memorable but not cheap. The Continental Breakfast costs £11.95pp and the Full Cooked is £13.95pp.
- Culture vultures
- Design and architecture
Pros & Cons
- Central location
- A sense of occasion
- Memorably stylish
- Not exactly a quiet place to curl up with a good book
- Service variable