First impression 19th-century party palace meets urban sanctuary.
Staff On it, friendly, but not overbearing.
Food & drink Destination-worthy.
Bed & bath Serene, sumptuous, hi-tech and leaving you wanting for nothing.
The crowd Cosmopolitan.
In a nutshell A thrilling mix of old and new, parcelled into a grown-up, sophisticated hotel in the heart of the city.
Set the scene
The traffic-, tourist- and tat-choked Piccadilly Circus isn’t the sort of place you’d ordinarily want to linger, but this grand building, with its copper-domed rotunda and façade carved from Portland stone, is a reason to. It’s a haze of marble pillars, lofty arches, sculpted cornices and bygone splendour. The main entrance, tucked away discreetly on quieter Air Street, gives way to a double-height, show-stealing lobby lit by a 770lb Murano-glass chandelier – a nod to the marriage of history and modernity that unfurls as you venture further into the building.
What’s the story?
Back in its late-19th and early-20th-century heyday, hedonism practically dripped from Café Royal’s gilded walls. It was a high-society hotspot, where anyone who was anyone came to eat, drink, gossip and be seen; a louche party venue visited by everyone from King George VI to Muhammad Ali. It was where Oscar Wilde got high on absinthe; where David Bowie held Ziggy Stardust’s retirement bash; where Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales came to dine. In 2008, it closed its doors and architect David Chipperfield led a five-year renovation project, whipping the Grade II-listed building into a super-smart hotel while keeping the original historic features intact. It’s part of the Set Group, known for its sensitive restoration of landmark buildings, and its siblings includes the Lutetia in Paris and the Conservatorium in Amsterdam.
What can we expect from our room?
Everything’s decadently oversized: even the smallest room categories feel generous, while the larger Regent Suites have sitting rooms and Carrara-marble bathrooms big enough to cartwheel across. An intriguing blend of period opulence and slick modernity, rooms are clad in mock Portland stone or pale English oak; the spectacular Tudor Suite comes with an original 16th-century fireplace and the showstopping Dome Penthouse has a private cinema and a generous terrace with views across the city. They’re all deeply understated – minimalist even – save for the leather sofas in quirky shades of dusky pink and khaki green. But the overarching theme is luxe; Frette linens, bathtubs big enough for two hewn from single slabs of stone, TVs hidden in bathroom mirrors, curtains controlled from the bedside and state-of-the-art Bang & Olufsen tech. Most surprising is the serenity; some rooms are so close to the gaudy Piccadilly Circus billboard that you could almost reach out and touch it – yet triple-glazed windows don’t allow even a whisper of noise to sneak through.
How about the food and drink?
The three restaurants and two bars are see-and-be-seen spots; bag a window seat at Cake & Bubbles, the pastry restaurant overseen by three-Michelin-star ex-el Bulli chef Albert Adrìà, and order his legendary salty-sweet cheesecake made with white chocolate, hazelnut and English brie. For a grander affair, head to the gilded Oscar Wilde Lounge, where afternoon tea is served each day. Steak and sushi restaurant Laurent, from star French chef Laurent Tourondel, is the main event. It’s an unusual combination of flavours; crispy shrimp and gin-cured salmon sushi is followed by Wagyu beef short rib, fillet steak and fluffy onion rings – but it works. The hotel’s newest bar, Ziggy’s, is one of the best bars in Soho, especially if you’re a Bowie fan; cocktails are named after his greatest hits and the walls are lined with photos documenting his colourful career. And then there’s the sultry, absinthe-heavy Green Bar – the perfect spot for a final nightcap.
Anything to say about the service?
Smooth, efficient staff seem to have the knack of knowing your name almost before you’ve even checked in – which is all the more impressive given the hotel is pretty much always at full capacity. Suites come with butlers, and a chauffeur-driven Range Rover is on hand to zip guests around London in style (albeit at a cost).
What sort of person comes here?
Well-dressed Londoners in suits and stilettos stopping by for pre-dinner drinks or post-theatre sushi; svelte fashion models lounging by the pool; shoppers laden down with designer bags and American tourists in baseball caps flexing their gold Amex.
What’s the neighbourhood scene like?
You’re right in the thick of things here: on the cusp of Theatreland; spitting distance from the shopping meccas of Oxford and Regent Streets; and close to leafy Mayfair. This may be a tourist heartland, but the convenience is indisputable and the rest of London’s mega-sites – including Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey – are all within easy walking distance.
Anything you’d change?
Some might find the fiddly in-room tech more of a hindrance than a blessing – it took quite a lot of playing around with to finally master.
Anything we missed?
The Akasha Spa, squirrelled away in the basement, is one of the best spas in London – and it’s vast. The centrepiece is the softly lit 60-foot lap pool, flanked by comfy day beds tucked into marble-lined alcoves. There’s a hammam, sauna, jacuzzi, yoga studio and a lengthy treatment menu: Aromatherapy Associates massages, Valmont facials, Vichy hydrotherapy rituals and the more unique bone setting and aquatic movement therapies (the hotel has the only Watsu pool in the city).
Is it worth staying here?
Yes – besides the historical splendour, superlative spa and buzzy restaurants, there’s something dreamlike about the sense of total serenity in the heart of such a restless pocket of the city.
Address: Hotel Café Royal, 10 Air Street, Piccadilly, London W1B 5AB
Telephone: +44 20 7406 3333
Price: Doubles from £440
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