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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Cafe Royal, Soho

I'm at the Café Royal - back in biz as a 5-star hotel after a squazillion pound makeover by David Chipperfield Architects who are, according to the venue's website, 'world famous for radical and sympathetic design.' My first glimpse of their bold vision is the new 10 Room restaurant - a Germanic greige galleried hall that feels instantly moribund. At its core, a reluctant battalion of tomato-tone chairs at white linen-decked tables -  empty at 7.30 pm - scans the horizon for an invasion of diners. As if to repel them, a palisade of brutal marble pillars that could double as an anti-tank defence turns the space into a forbidding stockade. If the PR for Heinz 57 Varieties had organised a Press lunch on a Normandy beach in 1944, it would it have looked like this. 'Sympathetic design'? Wilkommen to London's ugliest, dining room, mein Liebchen. In the all-new designer cocktail bar next door, another WWII reference springs to mind. As dark as a cliff-top pill-box occupied by an Axis of Evil machine-gunner taking pot shots at harrying Spitfires, its rounded gunmetal bar - got up in the heroic neoclassical/art deco style favoured by 1930s Fascists - recalls the bow of a frigate of Herr Hitler's fleet. The room feels so chilly; my hosts aren't for stopping. Drat! There's an interesting cocktail list to explore that's big on absinthe ideas; but at £20 a pop, I'd not only want to see the green fairy, I'd expect her to lap-dance me too. At my insistence, we decamp to the Louis XVI Versailles fantasy that is the Grade I-listed Grill Room (pictured above). Preserved in all its mirroired gilded gloire, it's now the CR's champagne and caviar bar - dress code 'celebratory and sophisticated.' By the look our fellow thrill-seekers, that'll be Next Sale mixed with Boden, then? Thank God my hosts are in the chair (that tedious tomato-tone upholstery again), for bottled French joie de vivre doesn't exactly come cheap in an historic salon that has seen its fair share of trysts. It was here that Oscar Wilde wooed Bosie until the latter's old man, the Marquis of Queensberry, showed up and boxed his boy's ears. Outraged by the pair's queer shenanigans, he was to become Wilde's nemesis.  What could prove to be the Grill Room's undoing, are its wild prices. Were I forced to endure an evening handcuffed to one of London's drearier PR mavens, I'd have stung her for Krug Collection 85 at £2.150 but because I like them, I suggest tonight's PR poppets go for one of the menu's entry-level options, Taittinger Prelude. Second cheapest at £120, it's the sort of fizz I'd expect at a Daihatsu dealer's daughter's wedding in Woking. On the subject of weddings; if you like drinking in what feels like an overspill room at a nob's nuptials in a rented castle, you'll get off on the Grill Room. Amused by a tuna amuse presented in what looks like a doll's bed-pan - less so by a curious lack of any discernible ambience - we leg it as soon as we finish off the bottle. In Bosie and Osky's day, the Café Royal was the place to be. As it is, Chipperfield's Piccadilly circus would not be my first choice for a gay old night on the town.
68 Regent Street, W1B 4DY 7406 3333 www.hotelcaferoyal.com