A lovely weekend getaway in the stunning Oxfordshire countryside at Bicester Hotel and Spa
I visited the Bicester Hotel and Spa for an overnight stay with my partner, Ryan, and we were both looking forward to 24 hours of relaxation and indulgence.
The approach to the hotel, in Chesterton, is an indication of the level of quality that awaits within the building itself. It’s a beautiful tree lined drive, with an immaculate green lawn and sprawling land for the golf course. We were checked in by a friendly member of staff, who confirmed our dinner and spa reservations and told us about the facilities in the hotel before showing us to our room.
We stayed in a suite, which offered a soft king bed to sink in to, fluffy robes and slippers to get cosy in and a selection of complimentary toiletries. There was also the usual tea and coffee making facilities, a sofa and a chair, and also a large television. The bathroom came complete with twin sinks, a large shower cabinet and a jacuzzi bath. The room was decorated in a traditional style, with dark wood furniture and a poster style bed, and overlooked the golf course. It was a lovely view which set a tranquil and calming mood.
We had checked in at 5pm, as we had visited nearby shopping destination Bicester Village to indulge in some retail therapy before our stay as the hotel offers a complimentary ten per cent off the 160 boutique shops there to hotel guests. We didn't find anything we wanted in the shops, but we were confident we had plenty to look forward to with our hotel stay. With our dinner booked in for 7pm, I decided I had just enough time to enjoy a bath before getting ready.
I'd never had a jacuzzi bath before so I really enjoyed the experience, it was a fantastic way to begin what was overall a very indulgent stay. It was an additional extra that I was not expecting, something about the standard bath that left me feeling like we had our own personal spa facility in our room made me look forward to the main spa. It was a little added bit of luxury that I really appreciated and have missed since I have returned home.
After getting dressed for dinner, we made our way down to Grays Restaurant, hungry and hoping for a delicious meal. I must say we got exactly what we wanted and so much more. We were the first to arrive for a meal that evening so it provided a welcome opportunity to settle in to the plush surroundings. Again, the traditional decor continued with dark wood furniture, and the lighting was dimmed just enough to create an ambience.
A waitress greeted us with a smile and showed us to our table, and after giving us a few minutes to look at the menu returned to take our drinks order and offer us a basket of bread for the table, which we accepted. The bread that arrived was exceptional; one was flavoured with blue cheese and white chocolate and the other with paprika, roasted tomato and chili. The flavours of both were delicate, but just what we wanted, and the texture was wonderfully soft. We had one slice of each flavour each, but I could have easily eaten more. Although it was probably for the best that I didn't as we were having a three course meal. The waitress had been proud to tell us that the bread had been freshly baked that day, and the staff in the kitchen - headed by Executive Head Chef Alan Paton - had every right to be proud of that because it was some of the best bread I have ever eaten. With the taste of the delicious bread still on our palettes and sips of the wine we had ordered, we were now very much looking forward to what was coming next as the quality of bread had indicated that we were in for a treat. Ryan told me his fishcake was nice and crisp, with a very nice flavour and the accompaniments enhanced the dish.
The waitress promptly returned to our table to take our orders for starters and main courses, and clear the table. As a vegetarian, I had been pleased to see I had at least two options for each course. For my starter, I chose the onion soup and Ryan had the smoked haddock fishcake. We were both very impressed with our dishes. Soup can be seen as a 'boring' choice, but not this soup. This was a white onion and Aspall cyder cream soup with thyme and it was delicious. I had read on the menu that Executive Head Chef Alan Paton sources the best produce from the local area for the food served in the restaurant and they grow their own herbs, and I could tell that with this dish. The flavours were so fresh and intense, and the thickness was just right - not too thick on thin but it had substance and the texture was silky smooth. I was also pleased when it came served with more freshly made blue cheese and white chocolate bread. The sweet chocolate and slightly sharper onion complimented each other perfectly. I shared a spoonful of soup with Ryan, who was very much enjoying his dish too but rather enviously said it was so good he wished he had ordered it himself. High praise indeed from a man who loves meat and fish dishes and rarely eats vegetarian dishes.
Next, came our main courses. I chose the asparagus with soya bean arancini, spring onions and plum tomato ragu, while Ryan opted for the 28-day dry aged black angus grilled ribeye steak which came served with aspen fries and beef dripping butter. Ryan didn't want the accompanying grilled tomato and red wine and thyme baked mushroom, so asked to swap these for some onion rings and the staff were happy to oblige. The meals that arrived were beautifully presented and looked very appetizing. A first mouthful confirmed they were as a good as they looked for each of us.
I must say, I have never had a main meal like mine before and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a rare that a restaurant will offer a vegetarian dish that is completely different and hasn't been seen by a diner on another menu, so compliments must go to the chef for that fact alone. The dish itself was the aranchi encased in bread crumbs, dressed with the asparagus, soya beans, spring onions and tomato ragu. I enjoyed the crunchy texture that the bread crumb coating added, and again the flavours of everything were so wonderfully fresh, particularly the tomato ragu. The dish as a whole provided a nice balance of flavours, and again I could have eaten more. That is not to say that the portion sizes were not ample, they were, just that the quality of the food was fantastic. Ryan declared the onion rings the best he had ever had so he ordered another portion and encouraged me to try one. I agree with his statement, the onion was sweet and the batter was light. Ryan said his steak was very tender and full of flavour, the accompanying peppercorn sauce only enhanced those flavours and didn’t overpower the dish and paired very well with the chips.
For the final course, I had something which is not my usual choice - bread and butter pudding. This was because, although it was one of four vegetarian options, one of the other choices had lemon and another had strawberry, which I don't like, and the other was ice cream which I just didn't want on a cold autumn night. I was a little disappointed to find that the chocolate brownie I had previously eyed up on the room service menu had not made it on to the restaurant menu, I must admit, but it was nice to try something new. The pudding, which came served with vanilla ice cream and raisin oil was enjoyable, soft, warming and melt in the mouth - just what I did want on a cold autumn night.
Ryan opted for the sticky toffee pudding, which came served with salted caramel ice cream, honeycomb and toffee sauce. He said that despite ordering something he usually wouldn’t he was delighted with his choice, the hot toffee pudding and the cold salted caramel ice cream went together beautifully and the flavours were exceptional.
We also each had a hot chocolate, which were served with optional shortbread pieces - so of course we had them. The hot chocolate was rich and creamy, while the sugar dusted shortbread was sweet and crumbly. That was my favourite sweet dish.
After we had finished our incredible dinner we were full and happy, but after being offered a drink in the bar we decided we had space for one drink. The first thing we noticed in the bar was the paintings of people that hung on each wall, some depicted portraits of people smiling while others captured life moments; a bride on her wedding day and a group of people sharing conversation and food around a table. The bartender told me they were painted by the owner of the hotel, Graham Payne. I really liked the personal touch and it was a great visual indicator of the love that Graham has for his hotel, something else that had been proved by the quality of everything we had enjoyed. I had a pornstar martini cocktail while Ryan had a Peroni beer. We enjoyed them in the comfortable surroundings and returned to our room for the evening.
The next day, we woke after a peaceful nights sleep in the large, warm and soft bed. We were well rested and looking forward to the day ahead. Breakfast was served in the hotel's second dining area,. After the amazing food we had enjoyed the night before we were expecting breakfast to be equally as good, but I am afraid to say we were disappointed. There were the usual continental and hot breakfast options, and we decided we wanted a cooked breakfast. Unfortunately, most of the food items - such as hash browns, sausage, scrambled eggs, tomatoes and beans - were served in a hot buffet style and we found the quality of the food did suffer with this. Our favourite part of a cooked breakfast is the hash browns, but rather than hot and crispy with a soft potato centre they were lukewarm and somewhat chewy. I had seen that vegetarian sausage was an option on the menu, but I couldn't see any on the buffet so I had to ask a member of staff for one. There was a short delay as there was only two members of staff to serve the room, but when it came it was piping hot and had obviously just been cooked for me. There was a big difference between the temperature of that item and the items from the buffet that had been left on a hot plate for a while before we ate them. The breakfast stopped our morning hunger, but unfortunately it was rather underwhelming.
After breakfast, we headed to the spa area for an afternoon of pampering. We each had treatments booked in for 11.45am so, after being shown around the spa by the helpful receptionist and choosing our dishes for the spa lunch, we quickly changed in to swimwear and robes and waited for our therapists. They both came out to collect us at the same time, but I did notice a difference in how we were each greeted unfortunately. Ryan's therapist instantly introduced herself with a smile, whereas the therapist who was giving me my treatment did not tell me her name. It wasn't the most welcoming of starts and didn't make me feel as relaxed and calm as you would like to feel right before having a treatment.
I chose to have the indulgent chocolate massage. I wasn't sure what to expect with the treatment, but as a lover of chocolate I was confident I would enjoy it. The full body massage involved warm melted chocolate being drizzled on my back, arms and legs and massaged in. The first area to be massaged was my back and I was quite surprised to find that face down on the massage bed, I couldn't actually smell the chocolate though I could tell from the texture of what was being drizzled on my back that it was indeed chocolate because the lovely warm substance was thicker than oil. Even though I had filled out the usual health form prior to the treatment where I had indicated I wanted a medium pressure massage I was pleased that the therapist did check with me that the pressure she was applying during the treatment was suitable. When I turned over to lay on my front, it was then that I could smell a luxurious chocolate smell. It was a rich, intense aroma and I could tell that the quality of the chocolate used was superior with a high cocoa content. The massage itself was extremely enjoyable and soothing, and I was pleased that the therapist focused more on areas of tension that I had indicated on my health form - my neck and shoulders. At the end of the hour-long massage I felt the knots in my shoulders had eased and I felt calm.
I was then, of course, covered in a thin layer of chocolate so the therapist told me that she would open the shower in the treatment room for me to shower and leave me a fresh towel, then she left. I stayed still for a few minutes and then had a leisurely shower before venturing out back to the spa myself. I have to admit I felt somewhat abandoned by my therapist at this point, as she had not asked me to come out when I was ready to meet her back in the waiting area or brought me a glass of water. Overall, the treatment itself was brilliant, but the aftercare left something to be desired. When I met up with Ryan he told me that his therapist had brought him some water, as you usually expect after a treatment, so again I felt like there was a difference between the care he received and the care I received and that was disappointing.
In contrast, Ryan said his massage therapist was very professional and greeted him very warmly and introduced herself. The hot pebble massage was different to anything he had experienced previously but was incredibly soothing. His therapist, he said, had clearly read his questionnaire and asked about his problem areas, as well as applying just the right level of pressure to take away his tension and make him feel relaxed. He said they exchanged pleasantries throughout the treatment which he enjoyed as he always like to feel like he gets to know my therapist and he found her to be a delight. Once the treatment had finished she allowed him a few minutes to get ready in his own time and greeted him with a cold glass of water when he met her outside.
Next, came our spa lunch. Ryan had enjoyed his taste of the onion soup so much the night before he chose that for his starter followed by macaroni cheese with bacon served with garlic bread for main. I was delighted to see the chocolate brownie I had been hoping to enjoy the night before was on the spa lunch menu, so I chose to have the macaroni cheese, (without the bacon), and then the brownie. After smelling the chocolate in my treatment it had left me with a craving for chocolate too, so I was extremely pleased to have a chocolate dessert option.
We both enjoyed the macaroni cheese and once again found the portion size to be generous. The pasta was soft, with plenty of sauce and the garlic bread had a crisp crust and soft centre. Macaroni cheese is one of my favourite meals, and while I thought it was a lovely dish I would have liked the sauce to have a stronger cheese taste. I have to admit though that I am a huge lover of cheese, so it is rare that there is enough cheese for me in a dish for me. The brownie was everything I hoped it would be after building it up in my mind for the last few hours. It had a lovely rich flavour; rich, gooey and soft. The brownie melted in the mouth and was deliciously decadent, while the accompanying peanut butter provided a lovely additional flavour.
To finish our trip, we spent three hours in the spa; we enjoyed relaxing in the huge jacuzzi, the hydro spa pool, the sauna and the steam room. The jacuzzi was a lovely temperature, it was so soothing and warming. The hydro spa pool was a bit different and provided different areas, with a waterfall shower area which provided the feeling of a massage when stood under it. There was also an area where the water was calm with seats we could just sit and relax and let the water flow around us. I liked both the sauna and the steam room and again both were just the right temperature. The steam room was my favourite of the two as I enjoyed the scent of aromatherapy oils. We both also used the foot spas and Ryan enjoyed a swim in the 20 metre pool. There was also an outdoor hot tub, but this could only be used for the charge of £25 per hour which we thought this price was a little excessive so we decided we would spend more time in the complimentary facilities instead. Before we left, we laid on the loungers for a few minutes in the relaxation room which was dimly lit with cosy seats and cushions.
We left the hotel feeling refreshed, relaxed and rejuvenated. We loved our overnight stay in the stunning Oxfordshire countryside and would love to return.