London is a city known for its luxurious hotels, but it’s those that have a story to tell and a rich history behind them that really stand out from the crowd, and the show-stopping St. Ermin’s, nestled in a quiet and sophisticated neighbourhood in St. James’ Park, amidst the winding streets of Westminster, is a prime example.
A sophisticated city Autograph Collection hotel with historic links to the British Secret Service, espionage and spies of the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s, a captivating and colourful history is what sets this property apart from others in the capital.
During the 1930s, the hotel and the next building were used by officers of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) located close by, with the likes of Ian Fleming, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Laurence Grand, H. Montgomery Hyde and Eric Maschwitz all known to have worked from the building. Throughout the Second World War, it operated as a convenient annex by SIS surrounded by other secret organisations, so if you’re looking for a hotel that offers a breath-taking insight into years gone in a way quite unlike any other, then don’t hesitate to book yourself a room at this intriguing property.
Having recently undergone an impressive £30m refurbishment by its new American owners, this fascinating hideaway is set just a stone’s throw from the Westminster underground station, making it perfectly placed for exploring the city, and a well-positioned spot for guests visiting for both business and pleasure. Originally starting life as a series of luxurious apartments during the late 19th-century, St. Ermin’s was converted into a glorious boutique hotel in 1889, and this timeless gem has been visited by countless dignitaries and luminaries, including the preeminent British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in the years since.
With an intriguing and glamorous past, eclectic styling, gorgeous rooms and suites, the enigmatic Caxton Bar and Terrace plus award-winning signature restaurant, The Caxton Grill, the four-star deluxe St. Ermin’s Hotel is a distinctly individual, contemporary and welcoming offering and the only publicly accessible establishment in London closely associated with the history of espionage, particularly the British intelligence services through WWII and the Cold War. With this in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to come and enjoy this unique experience first-hand, and suffice it to say that I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
From the moment you set foot inside the lobby of this impressive hotel, it’s clear that you’re in for a treat. Brought to life by LA-based designer Dayna Lee of the renowned Powership Studio, it features a diverse combination of grade II listed architecture, evocative Art Nouveau styling and Rococo plasterwork, all of which comes together to make for a breath-taking aesthetic that exudes luxury from every corner.
The original St. Ermin’s interiors were designed by the famous British theatrical designer, J. P. Briggs back in the 1900s, and aspects of the original look and feel have been carefully preserved to retain its rich heritage and history. Brought up to date with contemporary features to suit its modern clientele, it’s a careful balance of the two, and the whole hotel is adorned with an abundance of flowers and foliage in a nod to visionary 19th century botanist Christopher Dresser, who was influential around the time that St Ermin’s was originally built.
Throughout the hotel, you’ll also spot a variety of handpicked antiques and collectables, which sit together with modern pieces to provide a warm, sophisticated, highly textural London welcome. Highlights include the Porta Romana red-pleated lampshade perched on a pair of duck-webbed feet, terracotta Vivienne Westwood wallpaper, hints of the Orient in cushions and prints and framed origami clothes made from maps of the area.
As well as its 331 spacious rooms and suites, the hotel is home to a collection of fifteen high-tech meeting rooms, making it the perfect pick for business travellers and events in the centre of London. But these aren’t just any meeting rooms, and if you’re looking for an inspiring space in which to hold a conference or celebrate a special occasion, then you’ll find it here.
Expect opulent Ballroom and Cloisters suites and a dramatic lobby mezzanine with its own outdoor terrace, with all rooms enjoying plenty of natural light and showcasing some unique features that are once again a nod to its rich history. A romantic setting in which to hold a wedding, tailored Conference and Congress Clubs also offer meetings and event planners with hands-on, creative support and excellent personal benefits – so St. Ermin’s is a great choice if you’re in need of some help in bringing your event to life.
Rooms and suites
The hotel’s spacious line-up of rooms includes 41 lavish suites and family suites, each offering a different experience and unique in their shape, size and structure. Drawing upon worldwide textural influences to convey a real sense of relaxation, calm and home, the dramatic two-poster beds make for a show-stopping focal point, while soft and sumptuous furnishing and crisp bed linen ensure an opulent feel throughout. For an additional touch of luxury, you’ll also find Louis Vuitton style furniture, leather-wrapped wardrobes and large walk-in showers alongside decadent clawfoot bathtubs.
The hotel’s 27 family rooms offer comfortable lodgings for parents with children, each featuring two queen-sized beds, two bathrooms and sofa bed. Children checking in will also receive their own intriguing St. Ermin’s Secret Agent Package with a ‘Top Secret’ briefing to test their own observational and sleuthing skills, which is a lovely touch that is certain to please both children and parents alike and make for an exciting stay all round.
Of course, any room or suite worth its luxury status should tick all of those little boxes, too – and at St Ermin’s, you’ll find multinational plug sockets; tea and coffee ‘to go’ in room and free Wi-Fi throughout as standard.
My own suite featured an expansive bedroom with a plush king-sized bed and separate sitting room, with comfortable furnishings and a lavish marble bathroom. Traditional décor comprising an interesting array of textures and patterns and some lovely extra touches meant that the entire space exuded luxury without overwhelm. At St Ermin’s subtlety is key, and the results feel effortless – which is always the sign of a well-designed room.
Food and drink
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the stylish Caxton Grill – a light and airy 72-seat restaurant which overlooks the hotel’s beautiful courtyard and where a delightful dining experience is guaranteed. Serving up a mouth-watering menu of creative twists on some British classics, the focus here is on fresh, locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients, including fruits, vegetables and herbs picked from the hotel’s very own roof kitchen garden – and with executive head chef Alexander Boyd at the helm, you can expect a mouth-watering culinary experience from start to finish.
Enjoying a leisurely dinner on the evening of my stay at St. Ermin’s, I was treated to a range of decadent dishes, starting with a light beetroot cured salmon served with an apple and fennel salad, sour cream, dill and crisp bread. The saltiness of the salmon was perfectly offset by the crunchiness and creaminess of its accompaniments, making for an impressive entree that would pave the way for the delightful dishes that were to come.
For my main course, I opted for a succulent rib-eye steak with braised shallots, barbecue parsnip and red wine jus. The meat was tender, juicy and meted in the mouth, just as a quality steak should, and my rich dessert of a chocolate and rum dome with mango cremeux, mango sorbet and mango tuile was a perfectly decadent way to round things off.
Other stand-out dishes on the menu include the skrei cod with monk’s beard, mussels, and lemon and chive sauce, and sea bass marinated in Indian spices served with green beans and pickled mustard dressing. The vanilla cream cheese mousse with pistachio, blood orange jelly and sorbet yoghurt creme is a dessert I’ll most certainly save room to try next time.
Distinctive light meals and snacks plus flights of wines, champagnes and whiskies are a Caxton speciality. The Caxton Bar’s signature cocktail is the Bowler Hat – Sipsmith gin, honey from the roof and lemon juice.
The hotel’s show-stopping afternoon tea is a must during any stay here, and features a range of freshly made sandwiches and tempting cakes and scones, all washed down with a pot of tea or a glass or two of champagne for an indulgent way to pass a couple of hours at a leisurely pace.
Served every afternoon in the beautiful, elegant first floor mezzanine Tea Lounge, seasonal menus are available year-round. A highlight is the spectacular ‘Honey Afternoon Tea’ in September, which is based around ‘hyper local’ honey coming direct from the roof, where over 350,000 Buckfast bees have settled in to their hives, gathering nectar from the nearby royal gardens of St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace and the hotel’s own ‘bee friendly’ courtyard garden.
St Ermin’s is located just a five-minute walk across St James’s Park to Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly, making it ideally placed for stylish city sightseeing or business meetings in the resurgent corporate Westminster and Victoria areas. What’s more, with the hotel’s links to the establishment’s secret London, it’s also merely a stone’s throw from Whitehall, Big Ben, Parliament Square, The Cabinet War Rooms, New Scotland Yard and just a hop from the water taxis on the river and the South Bank.
With the rest of central London also easily accessible from the hotel, it’s the ideal accommodation choice for anyone visiting the capital for business, shopping, West End shows, and just about everything in between. And in the city that never sleeps, you’ll have no trouble finding plenty of exciting activities, events and sights to keep you entertained.
In a nutshell
A unique and inspiring luxury hotel that offers a breath-taking insight into the history of espionage, a stay at St Ermin’s is a must, and is certain to satisfy a thirst for novel experiences without compromising on opulence, comfort and sophistication. A stay here isn’t just a stay, but a journey through time, and offers a one-of-a-kind experience that is certain to keep you coming back for more.
Address: 2 Caxton St, London SW1H 0QW
Phone: 020 7222 7888