As it turned out, it's not a bad deal in purely monetary terms, but I have to say this was one of the most middling, average and generally 'meh' meals that I've had in Oxford. I think part of the problem is that, like a lot of places, the Vanbrugh House is caught between two different poles. The website suggests that it wants to be a smart but characterful boutique hotel, but while the interior is new and pleasant, the public areas are entirely anonymous - also, I don't think any really aspirational establishment would have made the 'brassiere' mistake. The set menu suggests to me that the owners want to attract passing trade, but when we were there the basement restaurant was all but empty: it's a nice enough space and has a terrace for warmer days, but there's a definite 'hotel breakfast room' feel. On the plus side, the service was decent, friendly without being either over-accomplished or over-attentive, which is fine with me.
I will warn you now that this theme of ordinariness is going to continue for the rest of the review. I quite enjoyed my salmon fishcake, although it looked meatier (fishier?) when cut open on the plate than it felt when chewed. The greens underneath were a little overcooked and, worse, hadn't been drained properly. The Photographer's pork belly didn't attract much comment, although I thought it came with an excellent example of how to cook a fondant potato and we both wondered why the smear of apple sauce on the plate was pink.
So, would I recommend the Vanbrugh House? It's definitely a safe bet in an inoffensive environment: there was nothing wrong with our meal. Still, when you've got Côte and its similarly priced and reliably good set menu round the corner, and the diversity of Hythe Bridge Street a few minutes' walk away, I'd forgive you if you decided to live more dangerously.
Vanbrugh House Hotel
20-24 St Michael's Street
Oxford OX12 2EB