In this critical review we consider the large literature that has accumulated in the past 5–10 years concerning solution-mediated crystallisation of complex oxide materials using hydrothermal, or more generally solvothermal, reaction conditions. The aim is to show how the synthesis of dense, mixed-metal oxide materials, usually prepared using the high temperatures associated with solid-chemistry, is perfectly feasible from solution in one step reactions, typically at temperatures as low as 200 °C, and that important families of oxide materials have now been reported to crystallise using such synthetic approaches. We will focus on two common structures seen in oxide chemistry, ABO3 perovskites and A2B2O6O′ pyrochlores, and include a systematic survey of the variety of chemical elements now included in these two prototypical structure types, from transition metals, in families of materials that include titanates, niobates, manganites and ferrites, to main-group elements in stannates, plumbates and bismuthates. The significant advantages of solution-mediated crystallisation are well illustrated by the recent literature: examples are provided of elegant control of crystal form from the nanometre to the micron length scale to give thin films, anisotropic crystal morphologies, or hierarchical structures of materials with properties desirable for many important contemporary applications. In addition, new metastable materials have been reported, not stable once high temperatures and pressures are applied and hence not amenable using conventional synthesis. We critically discuss the possible control offered by solvothermal synthesis from crystal chemistry to crystal form and how the discovery of new materials may be achieved. Computer simulation, combinatorial synthesis approaches and in situ methods to follow crystallisation will be vital in providing the predictability in synthesis that is needed for rational design of new materials (232 references).