In London’s St James’s Park is a luxury hotel with an intriguing and glamorous past. The only publicly accessible establishment in London closely associated with the history of espionage, particularly the British intelligence services through the Second World War and the Cold War. St. Ermin’s Hotel is a member of the Marriott International’s Autograph collection and has an award winning signature restaurant, a terrace and bar as well as resident Buckfast bee hives on the third floor wildflower terrace. I was invited to spend two nights in one of their spacious family suites.
St. Ermins is in a fantastic location in terms of being a five minute walk from Buckingham Palace yet tucked away in a side street that feels more like you’re out in the country rather than in the centre of Westminster. Its grand entrance and courtyard with lush gardens are a truly wonderful way to welcome guests to the hotel. It really is like turning a corner and finding yourself in a completely different place, it’s lovely.
There are 331 rooms in the hotel including 41 suites and family suites which are all individual in their shape, size and structure. Sumptuous soft furnishings, White Company amenities, large walk in showers and marble sink tops and huge, comfy beds all add to the experience of a relaxing and luxurious stay. Each room is equipped with a smart TV, high speed wifi and 24 hour room service. There is also a 24 hour gym, concierge, crystal ballroom and 15 meeting rooms and event spaces.
The Caxton Grill offers guests a vast selection of classic British dishes in it’s airy 72-seat restaurant. The focus of the menu is on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, some of which even come from the hotel’s roof kitchen garden. I started with juicy Charentais melon and Bayonne ham followed by pan fried Sea Bass with summer vegetables, lemon and tarragon butter sauce. The Sea Bass was perfectly cooked and tasted as though it had been caught only an hour ago. I ended the meal with a coconut mousse, mango compote, passion fruit gel and pineapple. My only complaint about this delightful dessert was that it was so big there was no way I could finish it all. My companion and I then retired to the Caxton Bar where we enjoyed signature cocktails as well as a glass of bubbly or two in the most tranquil of settings.
The following day we were treated to St. Ermin’s speciality of afternoon tea, served in the spectacular first floor mezzanine or out on the terrace looking over the lovely courtyard. Unfortunately the British weather was not on our side for our visit but we were more than happy to be seated in the tea lounge. This really was one of the best afternoon teas I’ve had, from the service and flavours to the wide selection of teas to choose from, it was a real treat from start to finish. My particular favourites were the ham hock croquettes with piccalilli mayo from the savouries which I could not get enough of as I’d never had one before, from the sweet selection the choice was just too tough. A lime mousse, mint creme brulee and brown sugar ‘mojito’ was a taste sensation and the lemon meringue pie was a perfectly tart treat but this also competed with the strawberry timut pepper panna cotta to be my favourite. Just when you think you’ve had enough a basket of warm scones are brought with a selection of jams and fresh clotted cream. I just about managed one before admitting defeat.
St. Ermin’s hotel interiors were designed by British theatrical designer J. P. Briggs and features a diverse combination of grade II listed architecture, evocative Art Nouveau styling, Rococo plasterwork and the most lovely staircase and theatrical balcony in the lobby where you simply have a photo taken as though you’re Rose in Titanic coming down the stairs. Traditionalists will feel right at home with dark wooden furniture, marble floors and intricate detailing such as antiques dotted around the building but the modern traveller will appreciate the terracotta Vivienne Westwood wallpaper, hints of the orient in cushions and prints giving the hotel and worldly yet very London feel inside.
During the 1930s the hotel was used by the Secret Intelligence Service, the hotel’s Caxton Bar was used by SAS, MI5 and Naval Intelligence Division case officers to meet their agents. Eventual defectors Guy Burgess and Kim Philby frequently met their Russian counterparts in the bar to hand over top-secret government files. In 1940 Winston Churchill, held a historic meeting at St. Ermin’s Hotel. He asked a group of remarkable people to join him in ‘Setting Europe Ablaze’ – this elite set, were to become the founding members of the SOE (Special Operations Executive). You can see a number of relics from this era in the hotel lobby, beautifully displayed along with the history of the hotel which is well worth a look.
It’s rare you get to stay in a hotel that feels thoroughly modern yet boasts such an interesting history whilst still retaining its original features. You walk into the lobby feeling like you’ve gone back to the 1930s but feel in a home away from home in the stylish and comfortable suites. With a family friendly approach to their services (including a treasure hunt and botanical garden trail for kids) and food and drinks to rival some of the best in the London, St. Ermin’s is a place that will become anything but ‘top-secret’.
St. Ermin’s Hotel, Autograph Collection
2 Caxton Street