When you have a renowned building dating back to 1865 and it is right in the centre of London, what do you do with it, asks the gal. Café Royal used to belong to the Crown Estate but the clever Alrov family bought it, and had the idea of turning it into a luxury hotel. Now Café Royal, on Regent Street at Piccadilly Circus, had been the meeting place of such notables as, at different times of course, Oscar Wilde, David Bowie, Elizabeth Taylor and business tycoons galore. They met there, they dined there, but they simply did not stay there. Now, thanks to the Alrovs and their The Set hotels, you can stay there, in one of 160 monumental rooms, with bevelled-edge marble walls and Italian leather sofas in soft pink, or green, or lemon.
Suite 222 is in the apex of the wedge-shaped building. The bathroom looks out across Glasshouse Street: the living room and bedroom have imposing windows, with balconies, looking down at Piccadilly Circus and south along lower Regent Street. Thick double windows, however, means that I did not hear any of the noise outside – this part of London truly is a buzz. Interestingly, I thought the white noise in the two-floor TEN restaurant absolutely right – see the video, below. The lower level is the main all-day restaurant, while the gallery above, which is a substantial width, is part of the Café Royal club, which has 800 members who like the convenience of this place, literally two minutes from Piccadilly Circus underground subway.
There is also a large quorum of business people around who do not want to hold meetings in a Starbuck’s or a pub. Members can also opt for membership of the gym here, and they can dine, in one of several rooms leading off the upper level. The food everywhere, by the way, has substantially improved. Chef Armand Sablon, who comes from Brighton despite his French name, really does know how to cook. I was dining with The Set’s new CEO, Stephen Alden, who is particularly discerning when it comes to food, and we both gave dinner full marks. I started with ceviche of Celtic scallop with avocado and hazelnut. For main, we had a daily special, turbot, lightly poached with absolutely delicious soy-butter, and we tasted two wines, Fernand-Vergelesses 2013 Dme Rollin Père et Fils, Côte-d’Or, and Le Bouquet des Garrigues Côtes-du-Rhône 2012 le Clos Des Caillou.
And then sheer decadence struck. Café Royal’s street-set Café is an absolute must. Its chef Sarah Barber is granddaughter of the old Café Royal’s pastry chef, John West, and she has inherited his passion – but did he have the innovation that you find, today, in this luxury hotel’s desserts? Look at Sarah Barber’s Black Forest gateau, at the top of the article. Brilliance. I used that word again, as I left, marvelling at little details brought in by the new GM, Thomas Kochs, like a leather holder with my initials, to hold my door key and, later, business cards. I used it too, for the effect of the flower arrangements, definitely enhanced since my last visit. Now watch the video, below.