Whenever we depart from a restaurant that aspires to greatness, my partner and I always confer on our votes out of 5. My verdict on the Fallowfields experience was 3.25; my partner's 3.5. I was therefore very interested in the thoughtful reviews of others who had clearly been impressed in many respects but still couldn't bring themselves to confer a 4 or 5. It is unfortunate then that on Tripadvisor, Fallowfields appears to be an average restaurant when, in fact, what I guess most of us mean to say is not that it ranks alongside Giraffe or Ask, for instance, but that in the Fine Dining category, it doesn't yet excel.
Other reviewers have commented on the decor and atmosphere which they feel are not quite right. I would agree but only because I felt the music choice was indifferent and there was an almost church-like hush in the room which made one want to whisper. If I had turned up during a sunny day and had a view of the grounds, I suspect that the feeling that there wasnt anything interesting to look at in the room would have never entered my head.
Service was in no sense substandard. However, it could have done with being a bit more relaxed. Some of the less experienced staff need to find a way of lightening the atmosphere and remembering that just because they are dressed in black doesn't require them to act like they are serving mourners at a funeral. A particular bug-bear of mine is not knowing who is managing the table. This usually arises when serving roles are well-defined and 4 or 5 people pay regular visits. Though I would personally mark Fallowfields down a little for this, others may feel flattered by the attention and consider this the height of efficiency and professionalism.
My other minor issue regarding service was that I was very aware of being paced as if I had to spend 25 minutes in the lounge, 10 minutes at the table for my amuse-bouche to arrive, another 15 for my starter etc etc. The result was that I spent 3 hours on a 3 course meal which, for me, is far too long. Of course, many people, particularly hotel residents, do not want to be rushed and would welcome the leisurely pace. For me and my partner, it was too long.
So now to the meat of the review, as it were. I have to say first of all that, presented by my partner with 3 good Oxfordshire dining choices to celebrate my birthday, I chose Fallowfields for one reason: my partner is a vegetarian (or non-meat-eater to be precise) and their statement on their website that a vegetarian option shouldn't be an afterthought resonated with me who had, on many occasions, seen my partner's dietary preference treated like an affliction. Unfortunately, Fallowfields did not walk the talk. Despite the website boasting a vegetarian menu (albeit comprising one starter and one main course), the menu that was presented neither called out vegetarian options nor allowed such a choice to be made except upon special request. When we queried what the vegetarian options were, I was horrified at what I heard. The vegetarian starter was identical to one on the menu without the meat component. Isn't that precisely what an afterthought is? Forethought would have been offering something distinctive or substituting an interesting non-meat component for the meat. However, it got worse. The main course offered was an "assiette of vegetables with horseradish". So, in plain english, a plate of vegetables! No doubt, they would have been home grown and cooked to perfection, but given the complex description of the meat dishes, the words 'a plate of vegetables' even in French doesn't exactly send the palate into spasms of anticipation! An attempt to whet the appetite with a few exotic adjectives and a garnish of gastronic verbs was clearly needed to sell the dish and avoid leaving my partner feeling left out. So, failing to see one reason why we should pay over £20 for a plate of veg, she opted for the fish and had to ask for the pancetta to be omitted. Just as well she's not a fussy vegetarian!
As for me, I adore pork so the pig option was the obvious choice. However, despite its rare breed credentials and impeccable presentation, it failed in one key respect: on my palate it was lacking in strong, interesting flavours; what Beatrix Potter might have called pigling bland! And rather irritatingly, the slice of crackling was tough enough to lever up a manhole cover and for fear of damaging my crowns, decided that I had to forego one of my favourite indulgences.
In conclusion, my partner highly rated her fish dish; the rose wine was a perfect accompaniment; the red wine was served at the correct temperature; portions were well-judged and the selection of desserts was admirable. There was sufficient experimentation to give interest to each dish and the resident cat added the charm to the hotel that was denied it by the rather anodyne decorative scheme. I don't doubt that Fallowfields carefully considers every review that is posted and will go from strength to strength in the years ahead. I wish them well.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Thank you for your review, and as you so rightly say, we carefully consider every review in detail, particularly, as we are at the beginning of a journey that started a mere 5 months ago.
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Negative comments are always taken personally by staff and owners alike and the important thing is for us to rise above that and learn from the experiences of every guest.
Thank you for your kind good wishes for the future. My team is confident we are on the right track too.
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.