Wilde at heart in the capital: Café Royal, London

Room Service

If Oscar Wilde had shared the view from my room at Café Royal, he might have thought the Green Fairy had been up to her old tricks again. Behind the elegant curve of the building's Portland stone exterior, which rounds off towards Oxford Circus like a Rubenesque shoulder, I pulled back the dusk-pink curtains and looked out to ... a pool of red vomit on the pavement, three men in superhero fancy dress and the hyper-illumination of Piccadilly Circus's signs bathing the stragglers in a high-definition glow. Would Wilde have been wild about supersize Samsung and Coca-Cola?

When the writer and his coterie of bohemian bons vivants held court at the Café Royal at the end of the 19th century, the gilded and mirrored brasserie looked much like the lavish rococo-style Grill Room bar that you find just off the hotel's entrance lobby today. And the absinthe that the Café Royal dispensed to Wilde & co so liberally, which once caused him to see a waiter picking tulips rather than stacking chairs, is back on the menu.

The 1865 Café Royal, which entertained all life, from royals to rogues, for almost 150 years, called its last orders in 2008. It took with it its neighbours, a Cheers theme bar and celebrity nightspot Chinawhite. The company it kept said it all: this once grand landmark – where David Bowie kissed Lou Reed and held Ziggy Stardust's retirement party in 1973, and where the ninth Marquess of Queensberry reacted violently to his son Bosie canoodling with Oscar Wilde – had faded into semi-obscurity, its sheen cruelly corroded. Now part of Israeli businessman Georgi Akirov's The Set (a collection including the Conservatorium in Amsterdam and the Lutetia in Paris), the Café Royal has been reborn as a modern heritage hotel, with two bars, a restaurant, a Continental-style café and stunning banqueting rooms that recall its glory days. A spa and members' club are yet to be unveiled.

The revival, by architect David Chipperfield, first saw the building annexe its neighbours. It was then stripped back to its bones, using old paintings, uncovered mouldings and an undisclosed sum of money to re-create the imperial confidence of its heyday. It's largely triumphant, the entrance lobby ushering you into its hushed elegance, where the last initial of the Café's Parisian founder, Daniel Nicols, is still engraved in the floor and the Grill Room glints behind a glass door.

The Ten Room restaurant is an anomaly, though. The Art Deco styling of the huge balconied space recalls an old-fashioned bingo hall and is fenced off with an austere row of marble posts. Perhaps an attempt to offset the cold energy-efficient lighting, the blood-red seating and carpet feels more like an afterthought. Still, the food is good, and not too fussy – the beef broth with hen's egg, oxtail and chicken dumpling, or Dover sole meunière democratically pitched to attract a spectrum of patrons as the Café Royal once did, even if the ambitious prices suggest otherwise.

And it looks as if the bons vivants are coming back. The hotel opened quietly in December and still has work to do before it's complete, but it has already hosted L'Wren Scott's London Fashion Show (attended by her partner Mick Jagger), a Dazed & Confused party and a pop-up members' club for Miu Miu. Now all it needs is some good old-fashioned scandal to seal its renaissance.


Regent Street is the dividing line between Soho and Mayfair, and the seediness of the former is disappearing as the Crown Estate's £1bn regeneration project continues to tidy up the area. The hotel is in the pulsating heart of London, a short walk from restaurants and bars, theatres, cinemas and shopping. The Tube is just a stumble away, with connections to King's Cross and Waterloo railway stations, as well as Heathrow.


The original Café Royal didn't have bedrooms, so these have been fashioned from former offices. The faceted stone slabs that line the walls give the press shots an institutional look. But the concept is rather clever: Chipperfield has brought the vernacular architecture inside, repeating Regent Street's Portland stone-scape on the walls, and similarly in the floor-to-ceiling Carrara-marble bathrooms. And when you're inside, the effect is cocooning, with added warmth from smoked oak parquet floors, copper-framed frosted glass panelled doors and pale, feminine colours. The rooms are generous, the design uncluttered but not cold – it's not fashionable or fussy but will age gracefully. Meanwhile, half a dozen historic suites, whose design will chime with the Grill Room, are in the throes of completion.

Travel Essentials

Café Royal, 68 Regent Street, London W1B 5EL (020-7406 3322; caferoyal.com).

Rooms ***

Value ***

Service *****

Doubles start at £360, room only

Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions