I can’t deny that I’m a huge fan of desserts. I’m also a huge fan of complaining about desserts – especially in Britain where cakes are often dry and overly sweet. So when I heard about the opening of the the dessert restaurant at Hotel Cafe Royal (weirdly called The Cafe which makes the full name The Cafe at Hotel Cafe Royal and makes it a really ridiculous name), I knew I was going to have to try it. Especially with epic pastry chef Sarah Barber at the helm. She’s got quite a pedigree of restaurants behind her, including the famous Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. But when would we go? They supposedly offered a dessert tasting menu (with wine pairings!), and when is a person going to stop in for desserts after eating a meal someplace else?
Turns out the best time to go is after you have a ridiculously overpriced (but absolutely amazing) sushi meal that only gives you a very small sweet bite at the end. Once that was done we wanted dessert, so the four of us made a last minute booking at The Cafe. I knew I would be able to convince the husband to go for the five course tasting menu there, but I also knew Andrew and Nava were going to be harder to convince. So hard to convince, in fact, they both decided to just have some salted caramel hot chocolate and leave us there before we even managed to get our first course! (They also loved the hot chocolate, in case you’re looking for a place to get it.) There was no hard feelings, because it was a bit of an impromptu dessert outing, and it felt like I was getting to kill two birds with one stone on this epic evening of food.
The five-course menu consisted of two savory courses and three sweet, so it wasn’t quite the dessert tasting menu that I expected. They also don’t have much of a wine pairing at the moment, so we had to go off piste and make our own drink combinations to go with the food. Luckily, The Green Bar is also attached to the Hotel, so we could get cocktails from there instead of the drink selection on The Cafe menu. Or in our case, you could just order some absinthe.
It did take quite a long time for the food and drinks to show up. It was a bit annoying to be honest, as I felt the server was doing a good job, but things were just not really coming that quickly from the bar or the kitchen. But when the first course of artichokes and lemon came out, we dug in satisfactorily as the first course was a nice, light plate of food that really woke up the palate to prepare for the rest of the meal coming ahead. It wasn’t an amazing plate of food, but it was a nice way to start out the meal.
Next on the menu was a venison carpaccio, and it turned out to be very decadent. The venison melted in the mouth, and there were some hints of sweetness to lead on to the desserts with the addition of candied hibiscus and parmesan marshmallows. If it’s not one of the chef’s signature dishes, it really should be!
The first of the three dessert courses was fig and oatmeal. It had a nice bit of sweetness from the fig along with the creaminess of a vanilla marscapone cheese. The oatmeal nuggets as well as the caramel shard added nice crispness and texture to the dish that was all brought together with the port reduction.
The second dessert course was amaretto and plum. There were a variety of textures of plum on the plate and an amaretti biscuit ice cream that was really delicious. I want to find a way to make it at home as the almond flavor just burst out of it. It was another spectacular dessert!
Finally, we had a whimsical finish to the meal with the dish “At the Movies”. It consisted of butterscotch popcorn and salted caramel ice cream accompanied with a cola “sorbet”. There was a nice ribbon of white chocolate with the image of film on it. It was just a fun, creative (and delicious) way to end the meal.
If that wasn’t enough, they supplied petits fours which was their take on a bakewell tart with a biscuit base and jam. They had a gorgeous design on them, which really just added to the fun of the meal as well.
The atmosphere is a bit strange though. Most people seemed to want to come in and grab a dessert to eat and then go which is entirely possible. Unfortunately, they had run out of a lot that was on offer, and that was one of the reasons the other two only had hot chocolate (as they were all out of chocolate desserts by the time we arrived at 8:30 pm). The venue is also not what I was expecting from a restaurant offering London’s first dessert dining experience. It did just seem like it could have been a cafe anywhere, and it definitely wasn’t as gorgeous as the Green Bar. It also took a very long time as we didn’t actually finish eating until about 11:00 pm which seemed like a long time to be there for a five-course dessert meal.
That being said, if the menu changes on a regular basis AND once they get the wine pairings down, I think I’d come back again. While the artichoke dish wasn’t mind-blowing, the other four courses were absolutely amazing, and I enjoyed them immensely. They’ve been open for a few months, and it seems like there are still a few more kinks to work out in the system, but it’s kind of worth it for the spectacular desserts they gave us.
The Cafe at Hotel Cafe Royal
68 Regent Street, W1B 4DY