Katherine MacAlister reviews Eynsham Hall near Witney

The last time I visited Eynsham Hall, it had been given a new lease of life. The restaurant was redecorated, daring and contemporary and new head chef Simon Bradley was installed in the kitchens.

Poached from the revamped Randolph, his debut at Eynsham Hall was a pleasant surprise.

Could Eynsham Hall, a rather dated bastion with its established corporate reputation, finally emerge from its mass catering mentality and transform into somewhere you might actually like to visit on a night out? In Simon’s case, absolutely.

But then news reached me that he had moved on, the crest of the wave having obviously reached the shore long ago. Simon went on to pastures new at De Vere’s Cotswold Water Park Hotel near Cirencester; a sad loss for Oxfordshire.

In his place steps Kurt Giger, whom, we were told when we arrived for dinner on Wednesday night, is more geared to the corporate hospitality climate, at which point my heart sank.

The dining room was similarly afflicted and full of single tables of men, all staying over for work, one hoped. Which is all well and good – Eynsham Hall is a hotel after all – but gave the restaurant a forlorn feel.

That sense of renewed joy which had accompanied Simon seems to have seeped out of the former stately home with him.

Still impressive in stature, however, the hotel, situated between Woodstock and Witney, was fairly empty on arrival, its few guests scattered in the main reception.

The staff were nice but fairly disinterested, impersonal to an extreme.

Sat in the dining room as one of the only pairs, any other couples were on their phones (pet hate alert) so silent, our conversation therefore the only enlivening entertainment.

We ploughed on regardless, my friend and I asking where the cocktail bar was, only to discover that you ordered drinks at your table which were then brought into the restaurant.

The lemon drop martini was suitably bitter-sweet, and the lovely mixologist concocted a similar tasting mocktail for the driver.

The menu was British and retro – prawn cocktail, Scotch duck eggs, a pressed pigeon and foie gras terrine, and so on.

It was odd to have a wild mushroom starter and main though, when there were so few vegetarian options for my companion.

The goats cheese terrine (yawn) was similarly uninspired. When we asked about its make up (we didn’t want a block of goat’s cheese), we were told it was reconstructed with cream and whipped until softer. It wasn’t, it was a black of goat's cheese, as it turned out. Plus there was too much of it for the one tiny piece of melba toast.

The mushrooms on sourdough were similarly ordinaire.

Things improved marginally with the arrival of the pan-fried seabass with chive mash, tender steamed broccoli and a sauce vierge, although priced a staggering £19. For a start, fresh tomatoes and mash don’t belong on a plate together, but the sauce vierge with its herby, olive oil make-up was horribly unseasonal – more summer in Provence than autumn Oxfordshire – and therefore out of place.

It also meant there was no sauce, as such, to accompany the fish and mash, rendering it a bit dry.

Something creamier would have been much more appropriate, although the fish was cooked nicely.

There was no excuse however for the wild mushroom ricotta ravioli with rocket leaves, parmesan and truffle oil, (an eye-watering £16). The pasta was undercooked, so was hard and starchy. The rocket was just dumped on top undressed, with a drizzle of what tasted like balsamic vinegar dripping down the sides of the plate (see picture). No other sauce was visible. We left it.

Fortunately, dessert was better – the warm cherry Bakewell tart with vanilla ice cream (£8) being pretty as a picture on the plate and delicious to boot.

The dark chocolate and orange tart with passion fruit and orange sorbet (£8) was another worthy consolation prize.

Great pastry, sugar work and passion fruit sorbet. But the tart should have been room temperature not fridge chilled, and although the chocolate was lovely and well balanced, it was very ‘set’ and therefore a bit heavy.

Despite saving the best for last, the tasty puds couldn’t make up for the deficiencies of the overall meal nor the corporate tendencies that had crept back in, slowly choking everything Simon had so carefully introduced.

“Would you go back?” I asked my friend, as we left rather disconsolately.

She shook her head: “No. It was expensive and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in a conference venue.”

And that’s the problem – Eynsham Hall’s guests are a captive audience, but the locals have a choice, and to attract them, it needs to offer better value for money, a more enticing menu and some tastier food.