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Tanya Gold

Tnya Gold reviews Café Royal, London

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The Ten Room is the -restaurant inside the new Café Royal Hotel, which occupies the curve of Regent Street from Air Street down to Piccadilly Circus and its bundles of mad tourists, who stare like Doctor Who extras at the nothingness in the sky and the greater nothingness beyond; it is neat advertising, neat capitalism. Soho on Easter Sunday is pleasingly empty and sinister and these great white buildings seem, as ever, to have landed on London from a planet of horror: pure unadulterated money, greed, sin and doughnuts, which can be purchased from Dunkin’ Donuts on Glasshouse Street, the most convenient gateway to hell in the whole metropolis.

The restaurant is in the lobby, which is problematic. The lobby could not be on the Regent Street side, where it should be, because taxis cannot stop there — it is a bus lane, tedious mortal. So the Regent Street entrance is a pointless room out of Al Pacino’s demon palace in The Devil’s Advocate, where he played a tiny, shouty, rather ‘fashion’ Beelzebub — a pair of white marble fireplaces gently flicker, mirroring, for all I know, the fluctuations of the stock market. And the real lobby, where the taxis groan and spit and the fat rich tourists slouch in and out with their teenage monsters and their electrical goods, is the Ten Room.

It is a fascinating room — on two storeys, with an empty gallery, in cruel Nazi art deco, full of kinky red leather, and so dark it feels like walking through Albert Speer’s spooky Nazi sex dreams. (The cocktail bar next door is even darker; a miner’s lamp is required to say hello to a person who may not actually be there.) A line of marble structures, like huge expensive matchsticks, shield us from the entrance, guarded by a slim man with an earpiece, whose job seems to be to point at the solitary door in the wall that isn’t locked, as the tourists bang with confusion and cry. And inside, behind the matchsticks, a few pools of Dutch look lost; teenagers stare at the screens in their filthy hands, oblivious.

The reviews of the Ten Room were bad. Some restaurant critics feel it is personally insulting to the ghost of Oscar Wilde, who loved the Café Royal’s Grill Room, which is now a champagne bar. Some are simply Jewish men, who inevitably ordered suckling pig stew, which apparently came without the advertised crackling — twice!  (Never come between a Jew with a pen and a pig is the lesson.) But I, as soon as I realise that this is not only the most frightening restaurant I have ever reviewed, but is actually a specialist restaurant — a break-up restaurant, in fact — I adore it. It is dark and soft and gloomily corrupt: Oscar no like, you say?

The service, to my mind, is not rude; it is simply French. And the food is entirely blameless: a leek and potato soup, brought in two parts like an operation (liquid and solid), is superb. The wild garlic risotto is excellent, even if it is alien-goo green, and A’s Easter lamb cutlets, rich and pink, induce a happy grunt from his pretty face. I am dismayed to discover that I have spent £34 on orange juice and lemonade but otherwise there is nothing wrong with the Ten Room; it is simply lonely.

On the way out through the hall, the manager, clearly bored, pounces. He shows us the lovely Grill Room, closed on Sunday and dark — but horribly the music still plays, as for a party where everyone is dead. His ballroom is shuttered and mirrored above Regent Street, and his finest suite, a collection of marble rooms, is next to the flickering lights above Piccadilly Circus, which gleam for McDonald’s, for Coca-Cola, for Samsung. I raise my hand to the window, and I am inside them.

Matryoshka
‘How long have you felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body?’
Café Royal, 68 Regent Street, London W1B 4DY; 020 7406 3322
Written byTanya Gold

Tanya Gold is The Spectator's restaurant critic.

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