Cakes & Bubbles is an unhappy woman’s restaurant. I thought it was a child’s restaurant, but I took a child there and he hated it and begged for a Double Decker. It is a patisserie and champagne bar inside the Hotel Café Royal on Regent Street. It sells sugar wound and smashed and spun — that is, it sells traumatised sugar — in front of a picture window featuring people looking for less inedible redemptions. It is, therefore, a place for people to get very slightly wasted after shopping at Liberty.
Last time I went to Liberty I met Jeremy Corbyn’s head of strategic communications James Schneider on the stairs. I always thought Liberty was Tory. Shouldn’t he be in Equality? (Even Corbyn’s Labour party aren’t dishonest enough to dream of Fraternity.) I looked for him in Cakes & Bubbles but he was spinning something else, something fairly close to sugar: fake socialism delivered by fools. The punchline wanders like a boulder over a hill.
Before it became a hotel in 2012, the Café Royal was a famous, flouncy restaurant that sold the imperial dream. It was another Brexit restaurant. A jumble of people came here — Aleister Crowley, Virginia Woolf, Diana, Princess of Wales — who had nothing in common except they ate at the Café Royal Grill Room.
The Café Royal is now a hushed, dim, modernist grand hotel with suites that overlook Piccadilly Circus, and the heart of Capital. It is a polished nowhere which smells of expensive candles. That is the very scent of modern wealth: Diptyque.
They took my credit card details in advance — a testament only to the whimsy of rich people, and Cakes & Bubbles is all whimsy, so I forgive it — and we sat in a golden room with chairs of red, like strawberries, and a champagne trolley: alcoholism on wheels. Here, what is done to women of this class is done to sugar. It is prettified and digested.
We drink rich hot chocolate and it is wildly metaphorical — it is too rich — and eat the classic cheesecake for £9. It is American-style cheesecake, and as delicious in taste, but it has no heft. Perhaps it does not need it, for the bell boys do the work? The ‘crispy’ almond and raspberry éclair is very pretty at £8 for two ‘units’ (I would call them ‘pieces’ but I like to sub menus). They are indeed crispy, and they evoke New York City so painfully that it only makes me miss New York City. That is the worry with pastiche. It makes you long for the reality and yearn, only, to be in New York City. The Stroop-waffle ice-cream sandwich was named to please Charlie Bucket in his Wonka World, but he could not afford it at £8, and it falls away to nothing. It’s fake supermarket ice cream with fake supermarket waffles, and that it is inferior to the original might please the theoretical shoppers at Equality. The star is the Golden Egg flan at £5 — a hen’s egg, painted gold, or a very posh Cadbury’s Creme Egg.
I wonder if cuisine is following politics, for I am not vain enough to think it leads it. There are specialist steak restaurants and lasagne restaurants and chip restaurants and cake restaurants, which I would struggle to call populist. Even so, the centre, which is Pizza Express, is not holding.
I wonder if there are enough unhappy women in the rich tourist class to sustain Cakes & Bubbles and I decide there must be — if their hubbywubs [‘husbands’] aren’t putting them on the scales each night in case they get chubbywubs [‘fat’]. But how would I know, being in a bubble?