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High Society: The Café Royal reborn

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Few places have the cachet of London’s Café Royal, so for SeftonHornWinch the refurbishment project represented a significant opportunity. Ken Winch gives Jackie Mitchell the inside story

For Ken Winch FFCSI of SeftonHornWinch (SHW), the reopening of the legendary Café Royal in London’s Regent Street last December represented the culmination of four years’ work.

“Four years isn’t that unusual,” he says. “I feel huge relief that the Café Royal project is complete. I am most proud of the design, the quality of the installations, and the integration of new technology, such as the CO2 refrigeration and the vacuum waste system.” Café Royal is the first hotel in the world to use CO2 as a refrigerant.

Winch has a long association with the Café Royal, having played at the venue as a drummer in a dance band 30 years ago. One of London’s historical buildings, the Café Royal originally opened in 1865. In 2008, it was bought on a 125-year lease from the Crown Estate by the Israeli company Alrov Properties, run by Alfred and Georgi Akirov. It is the second hotel, after the Conservatorium in Amsterdam, to join The Set, the Akirovs’ new collection of hotels. And it forms the centrepiece for the massive Quadrant development by the Crown Estate, which is designed to revitalise the area.

The new, 159-room hotel, including six suites, has been designed by Sir David Chipperfield, with historic restoration work by Donald Insall Associates. Chipperfield, known as a minimalist, has updated the original theme of mirror, cast plaster and timber floors. “We took those elements and used them in a modern way,” Melissa Johnston, project director of David Chipperfield Architects, told The New York Times.

The famous Domino room remains open for business, while the Ten Room offers all-day dining. The Café serves cakes, breads, biscuits and chocolate, all made in-house. The opulent Grill Room has been restored to its original Louis XVI detailing. At the brass bar, a main feature, guests can order champagne, cocktails and a light menu in the evening. There is also a room called The Bar near the Ten Room, which has an eye-catching bar of steel and marble. The Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre will be opening in the next few months, and there are also plans for a private members’ bar and restaurant. As a result of all these additions, Café Royal is not expected to officially open until July.

Winch’s project involved designing and specifying several kitchens, plus warewashing and food waste facilities. In preparation, SHW prepared a detailed questionnaire for the client, which formed the basis of the work. “We have done everything we can to ensure energy conservation,” he says.

Cafe Royal Ten Room

The new Ten Room

The Café Royal building is actually three buildings incorporated into one, which posed issues with varying floor height. “A tricky part of the project was the internal logistics and spaces allocated to each functional area,” says Winch. “Movement between these tight spaces was a challenge.”

No raw food materials, laundry or provisions are delivered to Café Royal at the ground floor level. Instead, they are delivered to the lower basement in Quadrant 3, a retail and office block across the road (formerly the Regency Park Hotel) and loaded onto buggies and delivered via an underground road to the lower basement of Café Royal’s Quadrant One. Lifts transport everything from the basement to a holding area, where food can be unloaded to a cold room. When required, food is delivered via hoists and lifts to the upper floors of the building.

C&C Catering Equipment, working closely with SHW, handled the installation and outfit of the catering facilities. Senior project manager, Mark Roxburgh, who has been on site for 10 months, explained: “During the project, access was difficult as we only had a 900mm-wide goods lift to bring the equipment in. The Ambach cooking suite came in pieces and was re-assembled on site. The Meiko K200 warewasher was hoisted up through a hole in the floor in what is now The Café.”

The site also had a flood, which submerged the CO2 refrigeration system. The system had to be dismantled and removed in small sections. “A new CO2 pack system was manufactured and fast-tracked from Italy and completely replaced and re-installed,” adds Mark.

Andrew Turner, the executive head chef who joined the Café Royal in May 2012, runs a brigade of 55 to 60 people. “Much of the design work had been planned when I came on board,” he says. “I walked round the site with Ken and Mark and looked at each area, the work flow, the storage space. When it was decided that the Café Royal would sell its own bakery products, we had to work out how we were going to incorporate a bakery into a kitchen that wasn’t designed to have one. We’re producing our own chocolates so we introduced a chocolate room, with equipment such as tempering and enrobing machines. We’ve created our own origin bean chocolate.”

This is an area that Turner will continue to develop, with plans to introduce three or four specialist ingredients under the Café Royal brand. “We’ll be going out and sourcing these over the next few years,” he says. “We already have our own line of flour. We want to promote great British products.”

KItchens at Cafe Royal

The kitchens were refurbished

The main kitchen serves the banqueting rooms, The Café, The Ten Room, room service, staff feeding and bars, and will later serve the Wellbeing Centre and the members’ club restaurant when open. Winch says: “In the main kitchen there are no electrical, gas, water or drainage surfaces visible. It’s easy to clean, made of stainless steel with ceramic wall and floor tiles.”

Equipment in the kitchen includes the Ambach cooking suite, Rational Self Cooking Center and MKN’s FlexiChef multi-functional bratt pan, which has four different temperatures in one pan. This means various cooking processes can take place within the unit.

“I love this piece of equipment,” Turner says. “I’m the first person in England to have one. You can cook four different ways on the base plate, such as braising in 40 minutes, which normally takes two and a half hours. It’s self-cleaning as well – I wish I’d bought two.”

For private functions in the beautifully restored Pompadour Suite, an Alto-Shaam oven in the service pantry can cook food on-site. “We can plate up 100 covers in one go,” Turner says.

All warewashing appliances feature the latest reverse osmosis water treatment units. The water is filtered to remove minerals and calcium so the final rinse produces sparkling clean glassware and dishes. Bill Downie, managing director from Meiko, says: “The main benefit of the Gio process is lower chemical consumption.”

In its heyday the Café Royal defined the times. Now with its thoroughly modern refurbishment, it’s set to turn heads again.

The Café Royal story

The Cafe Royal in 1965

The Regent Street entrance, 1965

Opening in 1865, the Café Royal became a centre of fashionable London, frequented by writers and artists such as Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. Other notable visitors included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and James McNeill Whistler.

During the 1930s, it attracted famous people such as Augustus John, Winston Churchill, Noel Coward and Graham Greene.

Royalty also often seen here included the Prince of Wales, later to abdicate as Edward VII to marry Mrs Simpson, and the Duke of York, later to become George VI.

From 1951, the Café Royal became the home of the National Sporting Club, which held black tie dinners there before bouts.

A little touch of the technical 

Café Royal is the world’s first hotel to run off CO2 as a refrigerant. Produced by CCS and Iglu Cold systems, the hotel’s 15 cold rooms and 32 under-counter fridges give off zero emissions.

“The system cost £500,000, but it will pay for itself in two and a half years,” says David Blinkhorn from CCS. “For every kW you put into the system, you get 6kW out. For example, if it costs £1 to run a unit, you get £5 back in terms of energy. With standard refrigeration, you’re lucky if you get 2.5kW back. An Eco Box monitors and controls the system, which can also  be controlled from a smartphone or iPad.”

Winch says: “By putting in CO2 the hotel achieves first class Breeam rating – this is the standard for best practice in sustainable building design. It has never been used in commercial catering before. A hot water recovery system is attached to it, so waste heat from the refrigeration units is used to supply hot water.”

Café Royal’s food waste disposal system converts food waste into electricity. This is thanks to an initiative by Regent Street Direct, which manages Crown Estate properties north of Piccadilly Circus. A total of 17 restaurants share the cost and environmental benefits with Café Royal of this food waste recycling system.

At Café Royal, all the warewashing sections incorporate a vacuum suction food waste inlet. This is an opening welded into the stainless steel counters (see picture left). Staff scrape food waste directly into the system. At the press of a button, the waste is chopped up into a slurry, which then goes though a pipe to a 14,000 litre holding tank in the basement.

The food waste is collected from the tank every seven to 10 days by a vacuum tanker truck and is taken to the Bio Collectors Anaerobic Digestion plant in Sutton, Surrey, where methane gas converts the food waste into electricity to power the plant. Any excess is sold to the National Grid. A byproduct is organic fertiliser, which is supplied to local farms.

Bill Downie from Meiko says: “Seven litres of food waste is equivalent to one litre of gas oil. It’s a sealed system so there’s no chance of rats or insects getting into it. Less water is being used than in traditional maceration. There are no refuse bags at the back of the hotel. Food waste is picked up once a week, rather than daily, so the carbon footprint of a truck is reduced. Nothing goes down the drain.”

 Jackie Mitchell