Spying bees

A review of the St. Ermin’s Hotel

 

I first visited the St. Ermin’s Hotel close to Scotland Yard in St James’s in June 2012 for the first Intelligence Book of the Year Awards. Today, I will return there to attend a reception to announce the second winner of this annual prize by judges Andrew Lownie, Dan Mulvenna, Glenmore Trenear-Harvey, Michael Smith and Nigel West.

 

The courtyard entrance to the St. Ermin's Hotel, 2 Caxton St, London, SW1H 0QW
The courtyard entrance to the St. Ermin’s Hotel, 2 Caxton St, London, SW1H 0QW

The grand entrance lobby of the hotel
The grand entrance lobby of the hotel

 

As I reported in my last article on this Victorian property, the St. Ermin’s Hotel’s links with the worlds of politics and espionage are indeed strong. Built in the Queen Anne revival style to the designs of Edwin T. Hall (1851 – 1923) in 1887 and completed in 1889, the horse-shoe shaped building was originally a mansion block prior to being converted to a hotel that opened in 1899 after a major refurbishment by the theatre architect J. P. Briggs (1869 – 1944). Briggs remodeled the public areas and created a spectacular neo-Baroque entrance with balconies, ornate plasterwork and a double staircase.

 

Due to the building’s proximity to the powerhouses of government, the St. Ermin’s Hotel became a meeting point for officers of the Secret Intelligence Service and, as a result, various traitors and spies. Some worked from offices in the building and amongst them were Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Laurence Grand and Eric Maschwitz. Others came there to be interviewed and the hotel’s bar, The Caxton Bar, is renowned as having been a noted meeting place for secret intelligence officers.

 

Intelligence officer turned Cambridge Five spy ring member Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess (1911 - 1963)
Intelligence officer turned Cambridge Five spy ring member Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess (1911 – 1963)

One of the most notable meetings at the St. Ermin’s Hotel was held in 1940 when Winston Churchill brought together a group to join him in “Setting Europe Ablaze”. These founding members of what was to become the Special Operations Executive (SOE) took over an entire floor of the hotel and carried out covert operations from there throughout the Second World War. MI6 were stationed two floors above and then in the 1950s, the hotel’s bar was the meeting point of Guy Burgess and his Soviet counterpoint when he passed intelligence to the USSR.

 

A typical bedroom
A typical bedroom

A luxuriously appointed shower room
A luxuriously appointed shower room

Following on from a £30 million refurbishment to designs by Dayna Lee of Los Angeles-based Powerstrip Studio, the 331 rooms and suites at the St. Ermin’s Hotel are now comfortable, well appointed and decorated in a contemporary style. The two that I inspected, whilst perhaps lacking the charm of a boutique hotel such as Blakes, are absolutely ideal for a business traveller or tourist given the location close to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. They are well worthy of their four star rating and I slept well given how centrally located the hotel is.

 

The Caxton Grill
The Caxton Grill

The Caxton Bar
The Caxton Bar

The Caxton Grill, the hotel’s restaurant, continues the traditions of the St. Ermin’s in that it plainly is the haunt of politicians and policeman. Whilst dining there, I met an officer from Scotland Yard who was involved with Operation Yewtree. I can report that, though I had a most fascinating conversation with him about Savile, Davidson and Clifford, I did not leave with any state secrets that I could share here. The restaurant also featured on a recent episode of the BBC One’s MasterChef with Gregg Wallace and John Torode and frankly one could also imagine Hercule Poirot having taken rather a liking to it also. It is modern in style and features wooden flooring, bright décor and snazzy seating.

 

The restaurant features a menu that focuses on a Josper grill. This £17,000 hybrid barbeque–oven, which I saw so cleverly used by Chris Golding at Beauchamp Place’s Galoupet, allows a chef to cook, barbeque and roast at the same time over charcoal embers at temperatures of upto 600 degrees. Filled with Kentish hardwood every morning, the Josper recirculates smoke via adjustable draughts and, for example, as a result, it takes only about a minute to char infuse lamb and thick-cut beef sirloins. The real thrill of it, though, is that the Josper process ensures that none of the flavor or natural moistness of whatever is cooked in it is lost.

 

I began with a salad of soured plums, gorgonzola and blackberries (£8) that was colourful and most welcome on a grim winter’s day. My companion tried a roast celeriac and truffle veloute (£7) that though perfectly adequate, did not truly excite.

 

I continued with a half Temple Farm chicken (£20) that was cooked on the Josper Grill. Well presented and served with a green peppercorn sauce and some garlic and parsley French fries (£4), the cooking process was clearly illustrated. The meat was tender and I must say it was one of the best pieces of chicken I have eaten in years. My companion, an Icelandic financial titan, maxed out on a 300g vintage dry aged sirloin steak (£30) served with béarnaise sauce. Again, cooked to perfection, he was impressed.

 

Though more than amply fed, we finished by sharing a chocolate fondant (£7). This simple dish melted in the mouth and the accompanying ice cream was just superb.

 

Wines in the restaurant start at a very reasonable £19.95 for the house white and rise upwards to the £300 a bottle range. A Chablis is priced at £41 and a Gavi di Gavi at £33. The restaurant’s bar, the Caxton Bar, offers a huge array of cocktails but I must say I was rather sad that none of them were spy themed.

 

The hotel's rooftop is home to 200,000 Buckfast bees
The hotel’s rooftop is home to 200,000 Buckfast bees

The honey they produce is truly delicious
The honey they produce is truly delicious

 

The most quirky thing about the St. Ermin’s Hotel is that it has its own colony of bees. “Bees… In Wesminster?”, I hear you cry. Yes, indeed, 200,000 of them prosper on the roof of the hotel and produce the most delicious honey that is available to guests. From three hives, the Buckfast bees, described as being “good tempered”, have fantastic access to London’s parks and travel within a three mile radius collecting pollen and nectar. “London”, states the hotel’s website, is “a perfect environment for bees as… cities actually trap heat, which means they can start foraging earlier in the year than rural bees and continue later into the autumn”. Who’d have thought it? Where once lived spies, now prospers a colony of bees.

 
St. Ermin’s Hotel, 2 Caxton Street, London, SW1H 0QW. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7222 7888. Website: http://www.sterminshotel.co.uk

 

Follow the St. Ermin’s Hotel on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/sterminshotel

 

Read our report on the first Intelligence Book of the Year Awards at: http://thesteepletimes.com/da-steeps-speaks/long-live-the-spies

 

  1. Matthew, reading great book on Philby. Will let you know thoughts when I finish.
    Hope all is well in UK. Best

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Locking Up Boris

Petronella Wyatt takes to Twitter to suggest Boris Johnson “locks himself down” given he is “57 years old, and obese.”

A Tory Whip Shocker!

Matthew Steeples finds himself in shock and agreeing with Jess Phillips MP after she calls out Tory hypocrisy over their failure to withdraw the whip from an unnamed MP arrested for alleged sex crimes.

Hero of the Hour – Tobias Weller (AKA ‘Captain Tobias’)

Nine-year-old Tobias Weller has raised £145,000 for good causes by walking two marathons in spite of having cerebral palsy and autism.

MeGain Must Stop

This morning’s revelations from Thomas Markle Jnr. are proof that the Duchess of Sussex must put a stop the almighty mess she created with her family.

Titles for the Boys and Girls – Elevation of Sir Philip May

Giving a knighthood to Philip May for “political services” is absolutely preposterous given his firm’s dubious connections; instead Count Binface would have been a better recipient.

What a Charlie!

As Charlie Elphicke is convicted of three counts of sexual assault, one must consider Theresa May’s government’s shameful decision to allow him back into parliament suggests Matthew Steeples.

Gruesome Ghislaine

Ghislaine Maxwell’s request to “keep nude photos and sexualised videos” out of her trial is yet more proof that she is nothing but gruesome.

Stunt Slams The Silent Media

James Stunt calls out Viscount Rothermere for selectively choosing to ignore a story about the connection between Boris Johnson and Laura Kuenssberg;...

Tossed Out Tommy

News that Tommy Robinson has become a ‘refugee’ is the ultimate in irony.

MeGain’s Media Muckup

The Duchess of Sussex has well and truly failed in her attempt to manipulate both the media and the public; Prince Charles must now intervene.

Burley to Barnard Castle

Kay Burley makes a mockery of Dominic Cummings on Twitter.

Finding Attention (MeGain Style)

Most commentators have missed the point about the Duchess of Sussex suggests Matthew Steeples; she has a single thing on her agenda...

Shopping the McCann Media Mess

The latest developments in the Madeleine McCann case have been spun to a media willing to believe utterly preposterous stories suggests Matthew Steeples.

Robert Mercer’s Network of Interference

Matthew Steeples suggests it is not only Russia that Britain must fear, it is the interference of the likes of billionaires such as Robert Mercer.

Fergie Does Porridge

As the Duchess of York makes a fool of herself retching over a bowl of porridge in a blonde wig, one has to question why nobody reins this imbecile in; Fergie should ideally learn the art of silence.

Maxwell’s Trump Card

That Donald Trump is “wishing Ghislaine Maxwell well” speaks volumes.

Weather Now

London
scattered clouds
15.9 ° C
17.2 °
13.9 °
72 %
2.1kmh
26 %
Tue
21 °
Wed
25 °
Thu
30 °
Fri
32 °
Sat
25 °