|Photo by Freeimages.com/Mario Vicente Sanchez|
Lizzie Porter, The Daily Telegraph, December 02, 2015
An underground retreat off Regent Street, Hotel Café Royal's Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre promises complete rejuvenation in the centre of London.
The goal: A desk job combined with a neck injury at the beginning of the year had left me with excessively tight muscles across the shoulders, upper back and neck. A spa treatment was not going to solve the issue entirely, but I hoped that firm-pressure massage combined with Pilates in my free time, and better discipline regarding stretching during long hours at work, would improve mobility and tension levels.
The treatment: I opted for the Thai “Qi Fusion” massage at Hotel Café Royal ’s Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre. “Qi” (pronounced “chee”) is energy believed to circulate round the body in currents, with a literal meaning in Chinese of "breath" or "air". The treatment promised to combine firm pressure massage with application of herbal compresses and acupressure techniques.
How it went: I was cynical about the claim that my “body’s Qi will flow and tight muscles will unwind” – frankly, bananas and chia seed porridge are for energy; massages are not. But the therapist kneaded my arms, legs, sides, and – most importantly of all – my upper back and neck with finesse, paying attention to the smallest knots.
As I tend to find with spa massages, the pressure could have been firmer, and there was too much oil for my liking – I left feeling the need to shower straight away to scrape off excess residue. I remained unaware of the state of my Qi, but I returned to the changing rooms feeling that my muscles were looser and my neck and shoulders more mobile.
The place: Café Royal’s gilded rooms, once the haunts of rebels of high society – Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Taylor and Mick Jagger –were polished back to the glimmering apex of their heyday when the property reopened in 2012.
In collaboration with Donald Insall Associates, an historic-buildings consultancy, floors were reinforced to handle the solid marble baths that are highlights of the guest rooms; finials and gilding on the sweeping marble staircases are faultless.
Unfortunately, the renovation also saw public spaces, corridors and rooms lined with heavy Portland stone and English oak; while beautiful materials in themselves, it felt rather like the hotel’s soul had been panelled over. My junior suite was spacious with high functionality – think Bang & Olufsen surround-sound speakers, UK, USA and European power points – and a superb dove grey marble bathroom with Floris amenities. But again, the wood panelling was suffocating.
The Ten Room restaurant has previously received poor reviews, and while things seemed to have improved slightly – the room had more buzz than the Soviet-era Moscow it was once compared to – the menu is still overly complicated. There are no less than 10 starters and 12 mains, plus, on my visit, a separate “healthy” menu. My cod and pak choi was well cooked, but dishes are unmemorable for the £24 and over they cost.
The Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre – with an unfortunate entrance right next to the tourist tat stands on Piccadilly Circus – is a subterranean series of rooms, intending to represent “the four basic elements of nature”. They are thus divided – slightly pretentiously I felt – into Earth (the small lounge bar), Water (the spa), Fire (the gym) and Air (the “holistic classes”). Nevertheless, the pool is an excellent 18m/60ft in length – big enough to actually swim in. Facilities are numerous, including a steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi, nine treatment rooms, and London’s first pool for “Watsu” treatments in the water, but a greater abundance of lounging spaces would make the overall effect more comfortable.
The details: the Thai Qi Fusion massage costs £175 for an 80-minute treatment. Café Royal offers double rooms from £440, excluding breakfast.
This article was written by Lizzie Porter from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.