The High Street address dates from when you could drive your horse and carriage in through a gateway on the High. The entrance to the hotel is now around the corner on Merton Street, opposite the Schools (University Examination Halls). This end of the High Street is full of monumental buildings like the Schools, Ruskin School of Drawing and the south frontage of Queen’s College with its gigantic cupola.
The presence of the Old Bank Hotel and a few cafés have helped soften this end of town and make it more visitor friendly. The Eastgate’s own restaurant, “High Table” overlooking the High Street, is part of this welcome development.
Further east down High Street lie the University’s Botanic Gardens and Magdalene College where punts can be hired. There are some lovely early morning walks to be had down Rose Lane, across Merton Field and Christchurch Meadow and then down to the river.
There are 64 rooms, including 14 singles which is unusual in the UK and which keeps the hotel down to three stars despite its admirable makeovers (2005-06 and 2007-08). In some of the single rooms the en suite bathrooms are actually bigger than the bedrooms. The style is attractive enough with throws in Mercure-purple across the crisp white sheets and 19th-century prints everywhere.
There is one room to covet and that is the corner Ruskin Suite on the first floor. This is an imaginative modern take on what an Oxford don’s set of rooms used to look like. Crossed rowing oars decorate the fireplace, there are logs and a few token books, and a photo blow-up of very cold young men with their rowing boat circa 1900. There are also fine views down on to Merton and the High. It’s not a pastiche but rather a homage, and well worth booking into for the comfort.
As well at the High Table Restaurant, which is zoned into white tables and black tables, there is a seating area by the fireplace (very close to where lovers of Shadowlands will know Lewis and Joy Gresham met) and a large High Table Lounge at the other end of the hotel by reception, which is attractively decorated with wallpaper that resembles library shelves and lined with comfortable chairs in that distinctive purple de Mercure.
I really like the private dining room which lies between the restaurant and lounge and has glass wall to the corridor. Book that if you can.
Eating and drinking
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the High Table Restaurant, which has recently been awarded an AA Rosette for its creativity and imaginative presentation.
The early set menu for dinner (between 6pm and 7pm) is very good value at £15.95 for three courses. Sunday lunch is also good value at £12.50. I have yet to discover the joys of the High Table Burger (£9.95). There is a High Table Afternoon Tea in the lounge at £9.95 per person as well.
Who stays there
Business guests, visiting academics and returning alumni. A lot of returnees to the hotel itself too. In the summer the business guests are substantially replaced by tourists attracted to the hotel’s position and reasonable rates.
The single rooms don't save you as much as you might hope. Go for a double...better still see if you can get the Ruskin Suite.
There is a charge for WiFi but the manager, Mr Frank Harvey, is trying to get guests their first hour free. Parking, conveniently right behind the hotel, is charged at £13.50 overnight.
- Backpackers / Students
- Business travellers
- Design and architecture
Pros & Cons
- Good location
- Recent refurbishment has done wonders
- Single rooms would be depressing long term