Situated on Regent Street a stone's throw from Piccadilly in the heart of London, Hotel Café Royal stands in a league of its own, with an illustrious and colorful 150+-year history as one of the most renowned meeting places in London, frequented throughout the ages by everyone from Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill to Lady Diana and David Bowie. While the city outside couldn't be more pulsing, the hotel within is a serene oasis of sophistication and elegance, the look is a mix of French opulence (in The Grill Room lounge and in original ceilings and bannisters throughout the public spaces), Milanese minimalism (the rooms and suites), and Japanese Zen (Akasha spa).
Originally the headquarters of a sporting club, the building was closed between 2008 until 2012 for extensive renovations by new owners The Set, the bijoux hotel group known for converting a handful of beautiful old European buildings into new properties (like the wonderful Conservatorium in Amsterdam and Lutetia in Paris, both Fathom Favorites). Still shimmering from the revamp, Café Royal is now one of the most special places to stay and meet in London.
What's On Site
A stunner from the first impression, the hotel underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation in 2018 when designer Piero Lissoni (who also had a hand in the Conservatorium revamp) shifter the lobby entrance to quiet Air Street. The double-height guest reception area is dominated by a beautiful Murano glass chandelier and accented by bookshelves filled with volumes curated by Maison Assouline, which can also be found in an adjacent lobby sitting area. Traces of the past remain, of course: The original owner's initials are still visible in the marble surrounding the revolving door at the Regent Street entrance.
Of special note here is the sublime, 1,200-square-meter subterranean Akasha Holistic Wellbeing. The luxurious spa and wellness center (and members' club) in the basement has an eighteen-meter pool and nine treatment rooms, including one for couples. There's more: a private hammam, London's first Watsu pool for hydro-therapeutic treatments, a 3,200 square-foot gym with LifeFitness equipment, holistic yoga, core, and bootcamp classes, and trainers on hand to lend a hand. This is where I spent my spare time drinking tea, swimming, and chatting with guests. It's also where I had the best shiatsu massage this side of Tokyo.
Food + Drink
Café Royal began life as a wine cellar and was once considered to have the finest wine collection in the world. By 1890, it had become the place to see and be seen in London: Oscar Wilde would meet his lover Bosie here when it was a restaurant and meeting place.
At Alex Dilling at Hotel Café Royal, the intimate (only 34 seats), Michelin-starred, French-inspired fine-dining restaurant, the food is simply exquisite.
The ornate, gilded Grill Room, established in 1865 and originally named for Louis XVI, serves an award-winning traditional afternoon tea service, including vegetarian and vegan options.
Cake & Bubbles is the new dessert and Champagne concept overseen by World's Best Pastry Chef Albert Adrià, who is known for creating the groundbreaking El Bulli restaurant with his brother Ferran. Adrià had recently run a pop-up at Café Royal; this is his first permanent restaurant outside Spain. Located in a glass and marble spot overlooking Regent Street, the eatery will serve sweets and savories (including the renowned cheesecake and tomato tartare from his Tickets restaurant in Barcelona) from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Green Bar serves inventive cocktails inspired by the Café Royal Cocktail Book, written in 1937 for the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild in 1937. Recipes span a century, with a focus on the 1920s and '30s. This being London, gin features heavily. This being the 21st century, light bites and share plates are served to prevent you from going home too do-lally to find your house keys.
Should the specter of other people seem too daunting, especially at daybreak, there's always room service.
In the Room
Designed by architect David Chipperfield, the hotel has 160 gorgeous rooms situated off sleek hallways. Many have amazing views over bustling Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street and include all sorts of luxuries like toiletries from Diptique and complimentary Nespresso.
My room was generously sized, with a sophisticated combined living room and bedroom that was larger than most of the apartments I have lived in. It had a beautiful sitting area, a large entrance hall, and the most amazing view over central London. The bathroom had a vast bath and a television behind the mirror.
Six signature suites with names like Royal Wing and Presidential Suite come with private butlers and extras like luxury guest bedrooms. The three-bedroom Dome Penthouse in a listed part of the building is another highlight.
What to Do Nearby
Hotel Café Royal is situated near Piccadilly Circus, the beating heart of London. Here, throngs of tourists wander towards Covent Garden and nearby Buckingham Palace and up to the many shops on Regent and Oxford Street. This is as lively as London gets.
What To Do Nearby
For food, there's roast duck at yummy Chinatown locales like Hung's (27 Wardour Street; +44-20-7287-6580), eateries in the theater district like Opera Tavern, and grand Parisian brasserie fare at Brasserie Zédel.
Art lovers can head to Royal Academy of Arts, contemporary galleries like Blain: Southern and Marian Goodman Gallery, the art doyenne of New York's London spot in an awesomely renovated building on Golden Square.
After hours, one cannot miss Milroy's, the oldest whisky shop in London. It has been taken over by a young mover and shaker who has added a hipster cocktail bar. And down side streets in Soho are racy alternative club nights like Boylexe for male burlesque.
Keep Exploring London
This article was originally published in 2016 and is updated as offerings change, most recently in 2023.