“Is it still in the same place at the bottom of Regent Street?” asked my taxi driver when I asked for one of London’s landmarks, the Café Royal. Four years closure, preceded by 20 years of gradual decline, has taken this former glamorous haunt of Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Taylor and Virginia Woolf off the radar. But it’s back with the promise of a return to glory, and for the first time in its several incarnations, it is a hotel as well as a venue to eat and drink. The restoration has been loving and fulsome and there is no doubting the new owners have a sense of style. Large vases of forsythia and daffodils fill the familiar yellow marbled entrance. We are greeted warmly in the spanking new concierge area with its Portland stone floor and walls, and are escorted to the room via one of the four original lifts.
The new owners, The Set, have a declared strategy of buying properties in famous central locations, and it doesn’t get much more central than this – Piccadilly Circus was once considered the centre of the British Empire. Within a 15-minute walk are London’s main shopping centres of Oxford Street and Bond Street, as well as landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and most of the city’s major art galleries.
The architects had never designed a hotel before (a deliberate choice) and it immediately feels different than most luxury hotels. The concept aims to be as authentic as possible to the period in which the hotel was built back in 1865, and throughout the hotel are examples of the art deco of the 1920s in which it flourished.
The whole of Regent Street is built in Portland stone and my bedroom walls are lined in the same pale Portland plaster. The bed is large and functional with no bed spread, just a white duvet. A mauve leather chair and pale green leather sofa add to the uncluttered look. A huge, self-standing Bang and Olufsen TV swivels automatically to face the remote control, although when I switch it on it welcomes “Mr Neil Bartlett”. In the middle of the night it bizarrely lights up unprompted with the same message. Floor to ceiling windows lead to a balcony with Piccadilly’s statue of Eros almost in touching distance. The noise levels outside are incessant but, through two sets of triple glazing, we hear nothing. The bathroom is fabulous, with marble floor and a bath, stocked with Floris products. I reluctantly leave the next morning shortly after a checkout time, just in time to see the B&O change its message to welcome “Mrs Ryan”.
Still in it’s soft-opening stage, the hotel is quiet in part because its spa and fine-dining restaurant are not yet completed. But word is getting out. In the 1960s, it was a key party spot for the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and others – Mick Jagger returned recently to check it out. A street front cafe and private members club will reinforce the idea that this is a place for Londoners to hang out.
Excellent. There was only one other couple dining in the Ten Room so we basically had our own butler. I asked for some mint to take to my room and it was thoughtfully delivered with hot water. The doorman lent me an umbrella to ward off the endless British rain, and the reception staff were efficient and smiley.
The Ten Room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is very British, beautifully cooked and good value: Cornish crab is £12 (Dh67); skate £17 (Dh95); and, lamb cutlets are £25 (Dh139).
I was in a strict vegetarian mood and was given a choice of three starters and three mains. I chose a warm vegetable and artichoke salad and a fricassée of vegetables. Breakfast in the morning was served at the table, a choice of continental, healthy fruits and eggs of every description.
The famous Grill Room. Some 45,000 sheets of gold leaf were used in the course of the restoration and most must be in here. The simplicity of the decor elsewhere is in start contrast to this ornate Louis XVI-style room made famous by its literary and artistic clientele. Soon they will be serving bespoke British tea on replicate china from the 1870s. Even the mustard jars will be copied from Nelson’s collection.
The corridors, lined with solid oak, are rather dark and austere.
Great location with a sense of history. Not perhaps for lovers of chintz and country-house hotels.
The bottom line
Double rooms start from £310 (Dh1,734) per night, including taxes. Café Royal, 68 Regent Street, London W1 (www.hotelcaferoyal.com; 00 44 20 7406 3333).
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