Papillon at Hotel Café Royal in Soho
Most of us (read our partners) love a bit of shopping every now and then. On a warm summer’s day, strolling around Oxford, Bond and Regent Streets – or the more alternative Carnaby – will require at least a nice lunch break in between store visits. Soho is notably one of London’s most foodie-friendly areas, but the now-standard hard seats by a tiny distressed-wood table doesn’t always fit with our mindset; sometimes we are after a bit of comfort too.
Since its opening in late 2012, the five-star Hotel Café Royal has worked relentlessly to celebrate and restore the grandeur of its Belle Époque days, when Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill (apparently he was fond of the steaks, stilton and champagne served here) used to be patrons. The luxury establishment hosted acclaimed fine-dining pop-ups including that of Albert Adrià last year.
Papillon is the hotel’s latest dining concept: an all-day casual yet elegant café overlooking Regent Street. This bright and chic room is a haven of peace for the visitors who seek a moment of rest from the busy shopping avenue. While we sit at our table, there’s a demonstration outside, but none of that chaos permeates the wide soundproof windows.
We start our meal with two very classic, light French dishes: a savoury crêpe and a quiche. The smoked salmon crêpe comes with avocado, cream cheese (just a touch – which is good) and rocket; it’s nicely done and neatly presented on a white plate. The Smoked Pancetta and Leek Quiche is slightly smaller than what we expected but what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality – the shortcrust is perfectly baked and the filling is rich in flavour.
The menu offers a wide selection of cold, warm and hot dishes, and for our mains we indulge in two courses from the grill section. The Dover Sole (quite overpriced at £42) is lovely in its simplicity; the fresh fish is served with the sauce on the side – in my opinion it’s always the best approach, anything overly buttery poured over my food can be potentially traumatic. I respect those who understand that. The Aberdeen Angus Ribeye is aged enough to be noticed and cooked medium-rare as requested. Have it with the Truffle Mashed Potatoes and your day will be better.
As we finish our courses we realise most of the tables are now for the afternoon tea part of the service. It’s a positive sign of the liveliness of this café that the clientele is rather varied, ranging from upper-class families (probably staying at the hotel) to the more casual shopper in shorts.
Given the vastness and excellence of the desserts and hot drinks menu, we pretend we’ve just walked in and order a Cafè Royal 1865 Blend English Breakfast tea and the Dark Mapbelieve Valrhona hot chocolate (Guanaja 70%) as well as two desserts: Ferrero Rocher Bombe and Salted Caramel Tart.
There’s tremendous care in everything available in this café: from the fresh food on display to the champagne served in coupes (rather than the annoying flutes) and the selection of Phaidon food bibles positioned in strategic spots. History, modernity, chicness and informality clash in harmony at Papillon and whether you pass by for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea, you’ll surely leave happier and more relaxed than the moment you walked in.★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Papillon, 68 Regent Street London W1B 4DY, call 020 7406 3310 or visit their website here.