Most of the criticisms of the Ashmolean Dining Room, seem to be directed at the service and on the basis of my visit, I can understand why - sort of.
We arrived, on time, for our 1330 lunch booking. We stood next to the sign asking patrons to wait for seating and we waited…and waited. We made eye contact with a man who seemed to be the manager, as well as a young waitress but neither spoke to us, or even acknowledged us. The problem was plain to see. Potential diners were entering from another door, enquiring about the availability of tables. As the restaurant was absolutely jammed, they were given a lengthy apology and (I presume) a time at which a table would become available. Meanwhile, those of us fortunate enough to have booked a table were left to wait. I can’t be sure of the exact duration but it was long enough for me to consider abandoning my booking. After all the “walk-ins” were dealt with, we were eventually shown to our table, with no apology for the extended wait.
From that moment on, the service became very professional. After seating us, our waiter asked would we like a pre-prandial drink. My wife and I ordered drinks but the waiter returned with just a jug of water. He apologised, saying that our drinks would be delayed, as the bar had “run-out” of one of the ingredients. After ten more minutes, we eventually got our drinks - one of which, (a Negroni), was very poorly made. At this point, I had very low expectations of what was to come.
However, my fears were unwarranted. We both chose ham starters, my wife the Serrano, figs, Chardonnay vinegar and honey syrup, whilst I had the Trealy Farm air-dried, with celeriac rémoulade - both were first rate. For the main course, I had the lamb rump, which was simply delicious and my wife had the braised rabbit which was also very good, if a little heavy on the grain mustard in the sauce. The excellent waiter suggested that we may need a side order, so we had some French fries – extremely good. The portion sizes were a little on the small side but for the price, about right. We both had the mixed cheese plate for dessert and the whole thing was washed down with a bottle of Merlot/Corvina blend from Ponte Pietra.
The cooking and our waiter, really saved the day. The dining room is undoubtedly popular and when busy, cracks in the service are evident. Had we been forced to wait a mere two minutes more, then I would have simply walked out and delivered the appropriate review. Is it acceptable to have patrons waiting for an eternity, whilst you engage potential diners in lengthy discussion, regarding table availability? I do have some sympathy but then again, all I want to do is sit at the table I booked, at the time I booked it, and not fifteen minutes after arriving at the restaurant.
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