In a nutshell
Café Royal is a London institution: first opened in 1865 it was for many years the place to see and be seen, and is famed particularly for its association with Oscar Wilde – the bar where afternoon tea is served is named after him. The Café is London’s first dessert restaurant with dessert-laden tasting menus and matching wine flights, served from 6pm to 10.30pm daily.
Café Royal’s executive pastry chef Sarah Barber, whose inspiration was her grandfather, once head chef at Café Royal himself. She has since worked at Yauatcha, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental, and has spent 18 years mastering the skills of pastry chef. Her utterly original menu is themed around childhood, nostalgia and Alice in wonderland, with three tasting menus: Memories of a child, Pick ‘n’ mix and Sarah in Wonderland.
What are they cooking
Billed as ‘London’s first dessert restaurant’, The Café serves three, four and five course tasting menus packed with sweets designed to delight, such as the ‘Jaffa cake’ – after opening the chocolate toadstool and soil-topped pot, a beautiful, glittering chocolate coated, orange chocolate cake is revealed inside. The Eat me, drink me is a Snickers-inspired drink and cake that’s appeals to childish wonder and grown up refinement. There are more savoury, but still dessertified plates – the Milky way, for instance, is goat’s cheese with wild honey and beetroot snow.
What’s the room like/atmosphere
The Café is in the historic entranceway, and has been beautifully refurbished in golden Siena marble. It draws on the Café Royal’s history as a hangout of stars, intellectuals, and grandees, with photos of Bowie Jagger and Lulu as well as Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad and Churchill on the walls.
It’s very much in the tradition of grand European cafés – spacious, luxurious and refined, with art deco stylings, but brings in elements of fun in its Alice references – the leather chairs are black and red and there are (tasteful) rabbit sculptures.
Menu must-orders and misfires
The burrata is incredible, with it’s olive oil pearls and tomato terrine – in contrast to the rest of the menu, it’s savoury enough to make your palate ache pleasantly. Chicken foie comes with quince, brioche and a delicious, rich sauce, beautiful ginger crisps, red onion and cranberry purée, all complementary. And you cannot miss the eye-boggling rhubarb and custard, it’s playful, perfect presentation, or its incredible flavour.
There are brilliantly chosen, luxurious wine flights to match each menu, featuring wines and spirits such as Côteaux du Layon Domaine des Forges, Château Roumieu Sauternes and Henriques y Henriques 5-year old.
There is nothing else quite like this, and the novelty of the presentation is very much in second place to the wonderland-like flavours you’ll find here.
68 Regent Street
Written by Gregor Shepherd, May 2016
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