Despite being a lifelong Oxfordshire lad, I surprised myself this month by realising I have never been to Malmaison.

I knew its name of course, as the keystone in the multi-million pound Oxford Prison revamp, but having been to all the other restaurants there – including the sorely-missed Big Bang – nothing had tempted me inside.

So what had I been missing all these years since it opened in the former Oxford prison in 2006?

As we step inside, the girl at the hotel reception smiles kindly and explains the Mal Brasserie is along the hall and down the steps. Thanks.

Downstairs, we get as far as the bar and the suave barman instantly slides a cocktail menu under our noses.

I ask if he has any non-alcoholic cocktails – something refreshing for a hot summer’s day – and he confidently tells me I want a lavender lemonade.

I’m really not sure I do, but he mixes it up and slides it over on a black napkin. He’s right, it’s exactly what I wanted.

Time being something of the essence on a school night, we reluctantly tear ourselves away from the barstools and slug over to the restaurant proper.

Kindly waiters welcome us, take our coats and show us to our table – sadly in the furthest corner, squeezed between two other couples already well under way.

It’s fine. He hands us the sizeable menus, and we decide on the summer menu – £19.95 for two courses, £24.95 for three – which boasts four starters, four mains and four desserts.

For starters, you can choose between soup of the day, charred mackerel, chicken liver mousse and a signature summer salad.

I opt for the soup – cauliflower, while Katie goes for the salad. The soup is an uninspiring (if predictable for cauliflower) beige colour, with a single, thin slice of bread. Taste-wise, there isn’t much, so I attempt to salt it, realise our salt shaker is empty, go and get one from another table and then finish my starter slowly. Personally I feel that for something this mediocre, there’s just too much of it – a starter wants to be small and full of flavour.

The salad, which comes with avocado, apple, cherry tomatoes, Beauvale blue cheese and sautéed chorizo, tastes exactly as it says on the tin.

For mains, a choice of summer stew of grilled Merguez sausages, seared soy-glazed salmon, sticky BBQ rack of pork ribs and the tomato and mozzarella spaghetti.

I am an absolute sucker for a rack of ribs and always have been: the Lamb Pub in Wantage serves up a big sticky rack with crispy chips and a bowl of coleslaw and it’s heaven.

My Malmaison ribs arrive, and straight away I fear the worst. I tuck in, but they’ve ruined it. The ribs aren’t marinaded in the sauce, which taste of cheap white sugar slapped on at the last minute. Every single rib has pellets of gristle that I have to spit out.

The pickled vegetables on the side are soft and taste like the white vinegar you use to clean surfaces.

But perhaps most confusing of all is the roast sweet potatoes and ‘Chipotle mayonnaise’ which come served in a sad little ramekin on the side: for a start, they’ve already served me two main ingredients which are soft and have no bite – what the dish needs is something crunchy instead of these potatoes covered in a slightly hot, gacky mayonnaise that clags your mouth – I can’t write about it any more.

The spaghetti is worse – it picks up in glutinous chunks that aren’t worth finishing.

As if it couldn’t get any more depressing, the house red’s label does not list a grape variety and its flavour evaporates like a magician’s vanishing trick.

For me the meal is a write-off and I can’t bring myself to eat dessert. Katie, ever the optimist, takes a punt on the poached English strawberries with Champagne, mint jelly and stem ginger.

She gives up after a mouthful. I give it a go and like the chewy, gelatinous whole fruits in their jelly, the crunchy little meringue hats, cool cream and piquant ginger.

I want to stress that throughout the night the staff didn’t put a foot wrong, but after exiting I doubt we will see them again.