Right now it seems that good looking bars are a bit like buses: you wait ages for one then three appear at once. Five if you count Opium Chinatown round the corner and Hawksmoor Air Street over the road. For now we’re talking about the triumvirate that have opened up at the Piccadilly end of Regent Street – Brasserie Zedel, Mash and The Bar at Café Royal.
The name Café Royal is an evocative one and the reopening of this building has been eagerly awaited to say the least. With a history that includes visitors such as Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Taylor and David Bowie there’s a whole lot of heritage to respect in this particular bit of W1 but there’s also a lot of contemporary action going on too. Whilst Mr Wilde, Ms Taylor and Ziggy would instantly recognise the exquisitely restored Grill Room, with more glisten and gleam than you would have thought possible, this isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia. A whole new experience awaits in the shape of The Bar.
In contrast to the bright opulence of its aforementioned gilt ridden cousin The Bar is all moody low lighting and minimally stripped-back modern lines. A large circular, almost sculptural, bar space dominates the centre of the room, but unfortunately there are no stools to perch on and check out the mixing action up close. Instead guests are guided to one of the many intimate tables and banquettes. Regardless of whether you’re there early or late the overall vibe is rather nightclubby.
The drinks menu is made up of sections named ‘Champagne’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Rediscovered’, ‘Something New’, ‘Something Light’ and ‘Absinthe Selections’. Amongst this little lot you’ll find drinks such as Vesper Martinis and Hemingway Daiquiris as well as a Yellow Mary (Tequila Patrón Anejo, fresh yellow tomato juice, fennel foam) and Mirror (Glenmorangie Astar Scotch whisky, Krupnik honey vodka, grapefruit bitters, fresh grapefruit juice, honey).
The team have obviously had a lot of fun putting the Absinthe recipes together with the likes of a Mademoiselle (Mount Gay Extra Old, Fonseca Port, La Fee Absinthe, Créole bitters) and 68 Regent Street (Pernod Absinthe, Lillet Blanc, red grapes, fresh lime and orange juice) making good use of the Green Fairy. There’s also a fine array of non-alcoholic drinks in the ‘Something Light’ section including the anti-oxidant loaded Bonjours (Granny Smith apple, baby spinach, lime, lemon, cucumber, parsley, topped with soda water).
Food is interestingly eclectic ranging from keeping it real with salt and vinegar pork bites and scratchings at £7, to a slightly more indulgent Beluga caviar at £435 for when you’re feeling particularly flush.
Ms S says:
Top tipple: I’ll be honest, I was expecting the bar to be all unashamed retro glamour and recession-be-damned luxe. While there is an undeniable air of fabulousness about the place, it’s much more modern, more streamlined and pared back than I thought it would be. Nothing wrong with that though, it’s still very much a five-star joint. I went for the Bloody Mary, here pimped up nicely with Belvedere Bloody Mary vodka, fresh chilli and Champagne. Familiar yet refreshingly different – just the ticket for any time of day.
Mr G says:
Top tipple: There’s a good mix of classics and new recipes on the menu, but whilst perusing it I told our waitress my preference was more often than not for a Dry Martini and asked for a recommendation. After disappearing off for a word with the man with the shaker she returned with an off-menu Richmond Gimlet (gin, lime, mint, sugar). Simple, straightforward and refreshing.
What’s the damage?
£14-£35 Cocktails; £6-£12 Simple Plates: £85-£435 Caviar
The Bar at Café Royal, 68 Regent Street, W1B 4DY. T: 020 7406 3333. hotelcaferoyal.com
Open Sunday to Thursday 7pm-12pm, Friday & Saturday 5pm-12pm.