The 17th of May had rung in a third red carpet welcome into the UK, releasing a plethora of glamorous dining gems, and decadent five-star establishments from the clutches of lockdown 3.0.
Despite the rapid vaccination figures, our European and across the far border neighbours continue to have an unsteady position on our lockdown release radar, as the UK grapples under the hit of the Covid wave and multi destination virus strains, not forgetting the addition of the country’s much debated travel traffic light system.
With the summer vacation uncertainty cloud continuing to float over our heads, the UK’s high net jet setters continue to shun the sun-kissed yacht shores of the Mediterranean, and the butler inclusive South African safaris. This has resulted in a 2021 staycation boom and the nation reigniting their adoration for the glorious countryside, and quintessentially classic cobbled path villages, not forgetting our well-heeled Babylonian and Michelin laden capital city.
Serving up a slice of city utopia with a serving of country grandiosity in a lavish partnership are the deluxe trappings of the St James’s Hotel and Club and Great Fosters Hotel, with their Queen and Country Staycation. Inside the walls of these extraordinary properties, guests can expect 48 glorious hours of Michelin gastronomy, handmade silk wall suites, and regal heritage surroundings, encompassing the cosmopolitan glamour of the capital city’s extravagant W1 postcode, and the Tudor rich history in the heart of leafy Surrey guaranteed to leave you exiting like a royal.
Day One: St James’s Hotel and Club, London
Tucked away within a charming cul-de-sac just a stone’s throw away from our adored royals residence, Buckingham Palace, and the lionised shopping sanctums of Jermyn Street the Burlington Arcade, sits the St James’s Hotel and Club.
Doused in a rich colour palette of scarlet red and white accents, this striking Victorian townhouse retains a certain suave swagger of sorts. Its princely historical timeline dates back to 1857 first as a member’s club for the high flying nomadic diplomats, milords and grandees, founded by Earl Granville and Marchese d’Azgelio. The marriage of ritzy extravagance within discretionary settings in the heart of London’s most top-drawer postcodes, saw the club claim one of the most esteemed clientele directories, from Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to Sir Winston Churchill, and of course the esteemed intelligence officer, writer and creator of the shaken not stirred loving spy James Bond; Ian Fleming.
Following a radiant makeover in 2006, with Berlin born Anne Maria Jagdfeld steering the design reigns, the Mayfair based Victorian townhouse underwent a lofty renaissance, which infused a soft contemporary backdrop with the treasured chronicle ambience of the member’s club, thus leading to the magnolious birth of the St James’s Hotel and Club in 2008 which now proudly sits under the prized Althoff hotel collection.
The stately affair begins from the tip of your toe onto the steps of this lustrous establishment, where the reception and concierge teams spared not a minute to welcome me with heartfelt elation.
The sophisticated colour palette of light grey, royal yellow and cream hues worked in sync with the trappings of gleaming natural stone, wood-panelled walls, and Murano glass chandeliers cut to the finest sparkling intricacies. Adding to the elevation of this habitat were the touches of custom handmade silk wallpaper, dramatics of a spiralling vintage staircase, and the charm of the traditional bijou lift for which I was handed a small key to whisk me up into the confinements of my sixth floor, Presidential suite.
The hotel plays host to 60 luxurious hotel guest rooms and suites, including the panoramic, 1,830sqft nirvana of the Penthouse Suite inhabiting the entire seventh floor.
My residence of the St James’s Suite proved no less a top-flight belle, stretched over 786sqft, and attired with priceless antiques, black lacquered furnishings, and meticulously selected art pieces from the Rosenstein collection. The St James’s prides itself on offering unrivalled luxury, which incorporates treasured heritage with the latest state of the art technology for the discerning traveller, which was evident with the BOSE hi-fi system, and LCD televisions fitted in the living room and breakfast area.
The living room’s seating collection in silver grey and velvet taffy pink, added a flair of arresting elegance against the suite’s natural shades of cream, tan and corn silk brown. The bedroom echoed understated yet enrapturing class with its minimalist no fuss layout, drawing attention to the stunning Murano chandelier and colossal king size bed created with, of course, the finest Hypnos mattress made from natural wool, cashmere and silk.
Ever the honoured royal perfectionists, the gleaming black and cream stone bathroom came apparelled with an array of products, from our Monarch’s favourite Royal warranted brand, Penhaligon’s. Also featured were a walk-in shower, and a luxuriant bathtub accompanied by a sleek television for the complete indulgent experience.
A sumptuously gastronomical odyssey awaits you in the St James’s Hotel and Club, courtesy of culinary maestro William Drabble and his Michelin star jewel, Seven Park Place, serving up exquisite French cuisine that showcases Drabble’s imaginative flair and razor honed skills.
Before the evening debut of this seven-course affair, the restaurant team took great pleasure in hosting me for a sublime afternoon tea in William’s Bar and Bistro, reflecting a more soothing and intimate atmosphere.
Available from 3pm to 5:30pm, William Drabble’s afternoon tea represents a showcase of classic Victorian cakes and sandwiches, with a swirl of gourmet modernism.
Drawing recipe inspiration from the likes of Queen Victoria’s chief cook, Charles Elmé Francatelli, the sumptuous highlights included feather light sandwiches filled with lightly seasoned chicken mayonnaise, and a hearty fresh out the sea like smoked salmon. The homemade scones sliced through the knife like silky butter, still warm with servings of Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam, whilst the delicately moreish rose macaroons gave my beloved patisserie connoisseur Laduree some hefty competition.
An exclusively created tea selection including Darjeeling, and St James’s Blend by The East India Company serves as the perfect beverage accompaniments along with, should you wish, a bountiful supply of crisp, free-flowing prosecco.
As for the evening at Seven Park Place, I had been whisked away on a bon viveur like dalliance with the restaurant’s tantalising gourmand menu, boasting the cream of British produce and seasonal ingredients.
Soaking up the graceful surroundings with a glass of Duval-Leroy rose champagne, I relished in a seven-course feast of rich, creamy cauliflower soup with a pinch of black pepper and garlic, and succulent, butter like Scottish scallops with a sweet, white asparagus purée. The show-stopping crown belonged to the lobster tail, with its firm, meat like texture submerged in a bed of velvety butter sauce, whilst the tender duck breast cut enveloped in a sweet, tangy blackcurrant jus deserved silver medallist.
Highlights from the signature wine pairing included the Maximin Grunhaus ‘Monopol’ Riesling, 2018; encompassing a subtle sweet ripeness with citrusy notes, whilst the dessert of intense, dark chocolate ganache with lush cherries rounded off the night with sweet perfection.
Facilities and service
No in-house spa is available at the hotel, however the St James’s Hotel and Club offers a rapturous, in-room experience of invigorating spa packages, roping in the haute monde professionals from Black Label to service you around the clock.
It is unequivocal that the St James’s teams echo the essence of discerning grace, debonair poise, and courtly stature, from the polished sommelier whose wine knowledge oozed heartfelt and passionate wisdom, to the warm mannered reception staff who live to go above and beyond for their guests.
Day Two: Great Fosters Hotel, Surrey
Nuzzled inside 50 acres of ethereal, emerald-green garden beauty in the heart of leafy Surrey, lies the lavish newest addition to the Alexander Hotels family unit.
Dripping in over four centuries of regal, aristocratic heritage, this enchanting red brick estate has claimed to have played residence to King Henry VIII and his formidable daughter, Queen Elizabeth, both of whom had used the hotel as a hunting lodge. Today, the original royal crest of Queen Elizabeth I can still be observed above the main porch with the date, 1598.
In 1930, Great Fosters had experienced a prosperous samsara into a grand hotel, with Sir Harold Sutcliffe taking ownership and control over the property’s scrupulous restoration. For over 90 years the hotel continued to garner a plethora of adulation with our nation’s royal personage, a notable highlight being playing host to Queen Mary during her appearance at the Ascot Ball in June 1931.
Since 2018, the highly lauded Alexander Hotels have taken this prized country premise under their wing, and continue to capture the fascinating, historic essence and distinctive features from this hotel’s life story.
My heart skipped a beat as I approached the red brick façade, surrounded by towering lush green trees and freshly cut, dewy grass lawns. My hypnotic trance continued as the beaming hotel team escorted me into the grandeur of the reception space. In here, I soaked up the seating and carpet furnishings in electric royal blue, polished wood flooring and intricately sculptured cream ceilings, closely followed by the classical antique glass chandeliers and real log, Jacobean fireplace.
Great Fosters offers their guests a collection of 43 remarkable rooms and suites situated within the Cloisters and the Main House, with each residence playing to a chocolate box theme designed to encompass their own distinguished traits, and ancestral characteristics.
My prayers were answered as I was ushered into one of the historic suites, namely the favoured suite of Charlie Chaplin for his children and their nanny, The Nursery. Housed above the Main House’s second floor, I revelled in the multi aspect views of the striking estate passageway, not neglecting the serene vision of the hotel’s Eden like garden. To my delight, a chilled bottle of Nyetimber’s quintessentially, English sparkling wine sat awaiting to be savoured during the evening’s sunset hours.
Royal blue furnishings and crisp white ceilings continued to follow suit from the hotel’s main reception, and into the Nursery Suite’s generous sitting room, whilst the untouched original features of chocolate brown, wood panelled bookshelves unveiled a plethora of traditional hard backed titles.
The bedroom captured a minimalistic yet periodic charm, with pastel checked throw cushions, super king handmade beds, and lightly shaded colour palette that aroused an airy delicate atmosphere. Hiding in the bedroom’s corner was a powerful en-suite shower, while the main sitting room’s wooden walls also unearthed a secretly camouflaged bathroom, revealing a Victorian designed bathtub and stocked with L’Occitane toiletries.
When Tony Parkin is taking charge of your 8pm festivities, you know you’re in for something exceptional.
A cherished addition to the Great Fosters kinsfolk since 2019, Tony Parkin had dealt a winning hand with the restaurant’s revival and newly rechristened, Tony Parkin at the Tudor Room. His astute cooking skills and phenomenal palate had seen him break records with a coveted Michelin Star in a span of just four months and he continues to dazzle his pristine guests with an array of cooking theatrics and stunning contemporary flavours.
Intimately spaced with no more than seven tables layered with soft white linen, the Tudor Room’s Elizabethan décor fused beautifully against the ruby red walls, where my gaze fell onto a dramatic 17th-century Flemish Tapestry, and onto the ornate Victorian fireplace and incredible mirror, stretching over an entire wall.
Post a serving of freshly baked bread and butter, I delighted in the canapé selection of lightly fried mushroom tempura, and piping melted cheese balls resting on a bed of popping corn. The dish of glistening turbot revealed a delicately mild flavour, working in harmony with the buttered broth and salted touches of caviar, whilst the succulent cut of venison melted in my mouth, served with a lashing of rich red currant sauce.
Controversially I shunned the extensive wine list in favour of my favourite French martini, before I tucked into yet again, another chocolate dessert, dark and smooth topped with crispy honey twirls, and homemade vanilla ice cream.
Revelling in my last hours of this indulgent staycation, I opted for an indulgent breakfast experience in my confinements of my suite including fresh fruit bowls, a bread basket and the full English works. The tragic absence of baked beans was soon forgotten by the cream like scrambled eggs with a sprinkle of black pepper, and premium quality thick sausages rounded off with the steaming hot, buttery croissants.
Facilities and service
Great Fosters lies within a serene, 50-acre paradisal nirvana of floral embellished grounds, and vibrant topiary manicured to perfection under the guidance of landscape architect, Kim Wilkie. The sprinkling water features echoed through the atmosphere whilst the secret Rose Garden drew me to a halt, with the sweet floral scents and majestic rainbow beauty.
The heated outdoor pool lies at the heart of the hotel’s Utopia retreat, ideal for an invigorating swim and a poolside glass of Nyetimber served up by the on-site bar staff. Although no jacuzzi or hot tubs remain on hand, an array of deep tissue massages and facials are guaranteed to press away your woes and stresses in the sanctuary of the retreat’s dimly lit treatment rooms.
To describe Great Fosters’ service as anything other than impeccable and unblemished would be farcical, be it the dashingly attired concierge to the cocktail staff on a mission to perfect my countless cocktails requests to my taste buds. Great Fosters live by their statement to serve and keep their guests in the same manner this illustrious property served and honoured their former descendants.
In a nutshell
The St James’s and Great Fosters have spared no expense, time or imagination in sending their guests onto the footpaths of our former and current VIPs, celebrities and noble members.
The Queen and Country Staycation package remains available until the 30th of December 2021, with prices starting from £1,048 for two nights with Michelin dining packages, opulent stately suites and exclusive elite touches.
For the ultimate quintessential experience of bespoke luxury and resplendent heritage, your royal staycation awaits.
St James’s Hotel and Club, Mayfair
Address: 7-8 Park Place, St. James’s, London, SW1A 1LS
Phone: +44 (0) 2073161600
Great Fosters Hotel
Address: Stroude Road, Egham, Surrey, TW20 9UR
Phone: +44 (0)1784 433822