13 SEP 2018: Last month when I went to London England with my friend Deborah, an architect, I felt it was mandatory to stay in historic hotels of architectural significance. However, given my personal tastes, the hotels also had to have great bars and excellent dining. The two I booked ticked all the boxes and more.

Both places, about a five minute walk from each other, were in the fancy part of the city (Mayfair/Soho) home to the city’s most celebrated galleries, restaurants, and shopping streets. The first I checked into, Café Royal Hotel on Regent Street steps from Piccadilly, was a fascinating combo of three buildings, a former fire station, bank and high society cafeteria all melded together in a grand cohesion. It took four years to complete renovations. The property is owned by the Royal Estate (i.e. The Queen) and its historical features had to be preserved.

The new lobby alone (in the former bank), designed and overseen by renowned architect and interior designer Piero Lissoni, represented an investment of about $6.7 million (US). Its bespoke Murano glass chandelier in the centre of the lobby weighs over 770 pounds. Above the lobby space is the new Laurent at Café Royal restaurant from celebrated Chef Laurent Tourondel, who began his career at the hotel.

Chef Tourondel, now based in New York City, is at the helm of 14 restaurants around the world including New York, Miami, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and now London with his first restaurant in Europe.

The restaurant which opened in May of this year, has a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere which reflects its “casual” fine dining menu. There’s a sushi bar, wood fired grill for meats and a menu that straddles trendy and classic with items such as kale Caesar, octopus with ‘nduja, dover sole and Aberdeen Angus ribeye. All is expertly prepared and very generous with the serving size. It’s a happening place with a lot going for it.

Another remarkable room in the hotel is the Oscar Wilde Lounge. Built in 1865, this is the very room that Oscar Wilde fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas, Aubrey Beardsley debated with Whistler, David Bowie retired Ziggy Stardust and Mick Jagger, the Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor danced the night away.

Formerly known as the Grill Room, its gilded wood and mirrored walls are resplendent. A fine formal afternoon tea is served here now -¬ sandwiches, scones and cakes accompanied by a choice of 30 tea blends and infusions, or champagne – all the while a piano player tickles the ivories. The tea is good but the room steals the show.

The hotel is all abuzz about the opening this November of its latest addition, Cake & Bubbles. This cake shop and sparkling wine bar by Albert Adrià, the younger brother of famed El Bulli founder Ferran Adrià, will be Adrià’s first permanent site outside Spain. A trained pastry chef, Adrià is best known for his quirky tapas bar Tickets in Barcelona. Two key members of his permanent team are moving to London to oversee it, including chef David Gil, named ‘Best Chocolatier’ in Spain.

Over on Albemarle Street, Brown’s Hotel by Rocco Forte, transformed 11 Georgian townhouses into a legendary London hotel. When Brown’s first opened in 1837, it was the first hotel in London to have ensuite bathrooms, the first with a telephone and the first with an elevator. It was very avant-garde in its time. Royals, prime ministers and lots and lots of writers were drawn to the hotel.

Of course, it has been updated and renovated throughout the years, but it retains a very English aesthetic, pitting classic with contemporary along Forte family member and Design Director Olga Polizzi’s vision. The hotel suites over the past year have been extensively renovated under the direction of Polizzi and her design team.

Their newly renovated Donovan Bar reopened this March, and named for noted photographer Sir Terrence Donovan, recently won Best Bar at the widely coveted 2018 Best of the Best awards presented at the 30th annual Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas in August. Images taken by Donovan, one of the leading fashion and portrait photographers of the 20th century, grace the walls. The ‘Naughty Corner’, an intimate, semi-private area for up to 12 people, features his most risqué photos.

Legendary drinks maestro Salvatore Calabrese created new signature cocktails for the place along with a selection of vintage cocktails made with some of the most exceptional rare spirits from his own personal collection. (Calabrese has been making drinks for over 40 years and wrote the book “Liquid History.”)

Salvatore’s Legacy is the world’s oldest cocktail, containing rare liqueurs with a combined age of 730 years. It’s available for £5,500 and includes a 1788 cognac, a 1770 kummel liqueur and an 1860 orange liqueur. No one’s bought it at Donovan yet. I tried an excellent twist on the Negroni, called Gran Torino, for a reasonable £19.

In spring of this year, the new Beck at Brown’s by Michelin starred chef Heinz Beck opened, serving Italian fare from the renowned three Michelin-starred chef (La Pergola in Rome). In designing the space, Polizzi maintained historic architectural details such as the original 1900’s oak panelling, while brightening up the room with botanical wallpaper and a curated selection from Brown’s significant art and antiques collection.

The food featured dishes from all corners of Italy, with style and panache. Fagottelli alla carbonara, a Beck signature dish, for example was an amazing Roman bacon dressed pasta parcel filled with liquid egg yolk and pecorino cheese that explodes in the mouth with delicious flavours. The wine list was well thought out with many excellent Italian producers from small producers with an emphasis on organic and biodynamic.

With these two hotels both my foodie obsessions and my friend’s passion for architecture were well quenched.

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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