When you expect nothing but the best, think of The Malmaison group of hotels, a collection of centres of excellence, that has well established itself throughout Britain. As a concept alone this is exciting, but the reality is brilliant, so that at last there is a hotel group where uniformity of standards is of the same high calibre.
If you draw up outside Malmaison Oxford and feel a certain sense of familiarity it could just be because you have stayed there as an involuntary guest of Her Majesty in an earlier life. It was once a Victorian prison, now converted into a lavish, glamorous, hotel.
And lest you are worrying already about getting out, rest assured the ninety-four rooms and suites are all that one would expect from a hotel that has genuine regard for its guests and is concerned with every aspect of their wellbeing; after all you are given the key.
Cells, coolers and dwellings for the governor and custodians alike have all been thrown into the designer's pot, emerging in varying manifestations, some little changed for those who fancy a spot of chastisement, others barely recognisable in the new found glory. The Visitors Room is ideal for up to 100 people. Featuring high ceilings, comfy lounge style seating, Champagne Bar and plasma screen TV, it's a unique location in a truly distinctive building.
Amidst elegant surroundings, with spotless gleaming glassware and shining cutlery, an essentially brasserie menu is offered. Lovers of seafood will be delighted to note that their particular needs are well heeded, starting with steamed mussels, white wine cream and garlic, or the hot smoked salmon.
Other starters that seldom fail to please include jabugo iberico ham 'gran reserve', twice baked French cheese soufflé, and the rabbit, ham hock and foie gras terrine with pickles.
An inspired choice is the roasted fillet of black bream, with confit belly of pork served with champ mash and sauce diable. For those seeking by this time a slightly more carnivorous approach look no further than the - wait for it - Mal burger, a 250 gram burger made from ground beef tucked into a floured bap to join bacon and gruyere, served with homemade relish and some fries.
Over the years the number of outriders surrounding a good honest steak has grown to unacceptable dimensions. At Malmaison the thought and care is centred on the dry-aged bone rump and that's it - except for the chips. If you want all the rest go for the side dishes, but steak and chips on its own takes some beating. Vegetarians are well looked after - the pumpkin and gorgonzola filled gnocchi sounds appealing.
Heading the puddings is the sticky toffee pudding, supported by other choices amongst which expect to find orange and Grand Marnier parfait, or the splendid nougat glaces.
The wine list is a symphony of its kind, clearly compiled by an enthusiast who knows his wines well enough not to take refuge in a world of hyperbole when describing them.
is a wealth of information that will, I predict, only serve to increase your resolve to make Malmaison your next stop in Oxford - voluntarily. It is worth noting that you can also make reservations Online on their Website.