London is a timeless city, forever expanding in many fields, architecture, gastronomy, business. With a hotel scene that is constantly changing and reinventing itself, this city offers a fascinating plethora of choice, one of which is a place steeped in history and tradition, the Hotel Café Royal and the first thing we notice about the imposing atmosphere of this majestic hotel is the lighting. Everywhere you go there is a mild glow, not harsh but not dark either and somehow no matter in which mirror you may want to look, the lighting is soft and beautiful.
Hotel Café Royal traces its humble beginnings to a French wine merchant, Daniel Nicholas Thevenon, who arrived in London with his wife Celestine in 1863 in a bid to escape the clutches of creditors in Paris. Such a tale of endurance will serve as an inspiration to those who have hit hard times; that out of bankruptcy was born London’s finest dining room, opening its doors to the public in 1865. Early on, Frank Harris, a reputable wine connoisseur, described Café Royal’s superb cellar in his memoirs: “Even in 1884-5 the Café Royal had the best cellar in the world.” Paying homage to this history, Hotel Café Royal continues, we were told, to offer an exceptional list featuring a selection of wines from both the old and new world, with particular focus on French regions.
And so it is with other memories of times past, often overlooked or even forgotten in a hurried run for redevelopment but not here. Café Royal was closed in 2008 and its many famous unique curios and artefacts carefully cocooned while the restoration took place. David Chipperfield Architects, world well known for radical and sympathetic building design, have achieved a perfect balance between modernity and the retained the grand historic public rooms of the 1860s and 1920s.
Even more importantly, we are reminded of the fact that here, great minds came to discuss great ideas. Frequented by writers and artists such as Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, the conversations, inspirations and discussions at The Café must have been profound. Arthur Conan Doyle, H G Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, W B Yeats, Walter Sickert and James McNeill Whistler were all patrons. Distinguished figures such as Winston Churchill, D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Noël Coward and Graham Greene were also often seen. And you might even argue that this magical place has had more than its fair share of royalty and rock stars, the most famous event being in 1973 when David Bowie famously retired his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust with a star studded party, dubbed The Last Supper.
With all this in mind it came as no surprise to be able to catch a glimpse of a modern day celebrity as we enjoyed a cocktail in the Green Bar before our own supper in the Ten Room, offering British informal all-day dining under the helm of Executive Chef Andrew Turner. After dinner we abstained from the café’s famous absinthe, most appropriately enjoyed at The Oscar Wilde Bar having been reminded by vases of tulips of the famous tale of Wilde, hallucinating, after one absinthe too many, that he was in a field of them.
With a reasonably clear head, it was at last time to retreat to one of the hotel’s spacious and comfortable guestrooms. Contemporary yet serene, and designed with meticulous detail, the Portland rooms have beautiful rusticated Portland stone, while the Mansard rooms feature fumed English Oak panels. Both offer stunning bathrooms created in the hotel’s sleek, signature Carrara marble, all throughout you will find the luxurious Frette bed linen, fully stocked butler’s pantry and British bathroom amenities from Floris as well as statement design furniture pieces from the exclusive Italian house Poltrona Frau. After a good night’s sleep we took full advantage of the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre, a hidden sanctuary deep underneath the bustle of Regent Street, featuring a state-of-the-art-gym, large lap pool, Watsu pool, sauna and private steam room, a heaven of calm in the middle of a busy town.
As we bid farewell to our most welcoming and accommodating hosts, on departure we are reminded of a new upcoming venture, the Conservatorium in Amsterdam and the Lutetia in Paris (due to open in 2017), the other examples in this prestigious collection of hotels, created to redefine the concept of luxury travel. Might those not be occasions for still more royal weekends?