Tried & Tested

Hotel check: Cafe Royal

30 Jan 2014 by Tom Otley

BACKGROUND

The Café Royal opened in 1865 and many readers will remember it from attending events in its elegant function rooms. It closed for refurbishment in 2008 and reopened in December 2012 after a few delays.

It joins the Conservatorium in Amsterdam as the second hotel of the Set (thesethotels.com), and it is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.

WHAT'S IT LIKE?

Fabulously opulent, but saved from being over the top by sensitive interior design and the art deco touches that have either been allowed to remain or have been reinstated. Getting to the rooms involves one of four historic lifts, but you can just as easily take the sweeping stone staircase.

The entrance on Piccadilly is through a revolving door and, once inside (if not before), you’ll be helped by liveried doormen. To the left is the small reception and also a corridor through to the restaurant (on the right) and a café (on the left), so it’s easy to walk right past it.

The design is chiefly by David Chipperfield but also by Piero Lissoni and Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who have created a feel that references both Mayfair and Soho.

WHERE IS IT?

The perfect West End location – on Regent Street, at the south end by Piccadilly, with good transport connections to Heathrow on the Underground.

ROOM FACILITIES

The 160 rooms and suites are on floors one to six. They start at 32 sqm for the oak-panelled Mansard rooms, followed by 35 sqm for the wooden-floored Portland rooms.

They come with free wifi, Bang and Olufsen entertainment systems, TVs set into bathroom mirrors, Frette linens and Floris amenities.

All have a spot lighting system that makes you feel as if you are about to walk on stage, but then, paying these prices, you may well want to feel special. Bathrooms have Carrara marble tubs.

The hotel is made up of three buildings, one of which was the old County Fire House, which has been referenced in the bathroom divider screens and the elegant rectangular pattern of the opaque windows around the internal courtyard. The layout of the corridors is a bit confusing, and is not helped by the very discreet signage.

As for service, some staff were excellent – on check-in I was shown to my room and given a tour, something I was glad of since everything from the curtains to the revolving TV stand is remote-controlled – while others seemed a little uninterested.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

The Ten Room offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the Bar revives absinthe cocktails in memory of Oscar Wilde, a famed patron.

Breakfast isn’t served until 7am, and the room was too dark, but when I asked for the lights to be turned up I was brought my own lamp so I could work. As you’d expect from a five-star hotel in central London, prices are high – £32 for full English breakfast. Service is good, though my Eggs Royal (£16) were only slightly warm and too salty.

I’ve heard that the hotel is redesigning this room, which is good news – at the moment it doesn’t quite work, being perhaps too formal to feel comfortable.

The hotel also has a European-style café and the exquisite Grill Room, for cocktails and a light bites.

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES

The hotel hasn’t forgotten its heritage, with a meeting centre on the first floor housing a number of rooms from 26 sqm to 176 sqm, with capacities from 14 to 230 delegates.

It also has historic venues such as the Grade II Listed Pompadour suite, which is unlike any other function room in London for the opulence of its decoration.

LEISURE FACILITIES

The Akasha spa has a good-sized gym, an exercise studio and an 18-metre basement pool, along with steam rooms, six treatment rooms and a Watsu pool for water treatment therapies.

VERDICT

The hotel is a mix of unique heritage and stunning modern design, but it is still finding its feet in terms of having a personality.

I’ve been three or four times for functions and also to stay, and experienced exemplary service, yet on other occasions staff have been willing but lacked training. A new general manager starts in 2014, so perhaps things will change for the better.


FACT FILE

  • HOW MANY ROOMS? 160 – 22 Mansard, 27 Portland, 43 Portland and 13 Mansard Deluxe rooms, and 55 suites.
  • HIGHLIGHTS The sound-proofing (the noise from Regent Street is completely blocked out), the attractive interior design, the luxurious rooms and free wifi.
  • PRICE Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in March started from £345 for a Mansard or Portland room.
  • CONTACT Café Royal hotel, 68 Regent Street; tel +44 (0)20 7406 3333; hotelcaferoyal.com
     

Tom Otley
 

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